5 Ways to Create and Promote a Healthy Workplace
Companies today are making strides at prioritizing health in the workplace everything from thwarting sniffles and sneezes, to reducing aches and pains, to emphasizing and fostering healthy living habits. By placing an emphasis on workplace wellness, they can reduce absenteeism, boost productivity, increase employee retention and gain a competitive edge. With employee medical costs often eating up more than half of corporate profits, its clear that a healthy workforce can contribute to a healthy bottom line.
As a result, wellness initiatives are increasingly viewed as a win-win for employers and employees alike. Today, 81 percent of American businesses have some form of health promotion program in place. To be truly effective, its important that health-oriented programs and initiatives are not just isolated efforts but are firmly entrenched in the corporate culture. In addition, because health concerns can pervade nearly all aspects of the workplace, its important to take a multi-faceted approach to workplace wellness.
The following five areas and checklists highlight ways your company can promote employee wellness, along with suggestions for integrating healthy living initiatives across your office or company at large.
1. Office Design with Wellness in Mind
During the workweek, the office becomes, in many cases, a home away from home. Many employees spend at least half their waking hours there logging in more time sitting in their chairs than sleeping in bed each night. From office chairs to keyboards to even ceiling lights, companies have countless opportunities to link the design of employee workspaces and the overall office to wellness principles.
For an office design that promotes wellness, keep the following items on your checklist:
Evaluate ergonomics. Work might be, quite literally, a pain in the neck without furniture that supports employees and allows them to comfortably perform their daily tasks. In fact, 86 percent of U.S. workers report experiencing some discomfort from their office furniture and equipment. The good news is that its often easy and cost-effective to foster a more comfortable office environment by providing ergonomic options such as chairs with multiple points of adjustability, adjustable height desks, ergonomic keyboards and monitor stands companies can increase comfort and wellness in the workplace, and decrease potential worker compensation claims. In addition, providing education on ergonomic best practices so your employees know how to properly use and adjust their equipment is a free way to increase comfort and productivity.
Examine indoor air quality. You may not be able to see indoor air pollutants, but that doesnt mean they should be ignored. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), levels of indoor air pollutants may be two to five times and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. To avoid triggering or aggravating allergies, or other adverse reactions, your company can address the following areas to improve indoor air quality:
Furniture. When outfitting a room, beware of furniture selections including fabrics and finishes that contribute to off-gassing, a process that occurs when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde are released into the air. Third-party certifications, such as GREENGUARD and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Indoor AdvantageTM, indicate furniture that preserves high indoor air quality.
Paints. Choose low- or zero-VOC paint options, and ensure that areas are well-ventilated after painting.
Plants. Plants can add a literal touch of green to the office improving indoor air quality and office aesthetics.
A bright idea: Look at lighting. You can improve visibility and worker morale, as well as reduce eye strain, by paying attention to interior lighting. In addition to elevating moods, access to natural light and daylight views can also help companies attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits. Light dimmers and automatic shut-off controls contribute to LEED credits as well, and help employees adjust lighting to their comfort level and preferences also contributing to a healthier work environment.
2. Clean Up Your Act
Use floor mats. In addition to presenting an unkempt image, dirty and slippery floors can also pose a health and safety hazard to building occupants, while causing damage to flooring and carpeting within your building. Providing floor mats in entry ways is an important first step in combating these problems. In fact, with a high-performance matting system, roughly 90 percent of the dirt and soil brought into any building can be contained within the first 10 to 15 feet.
Seek sustainable cleaning solutions. Traditional cleaning chemicals can emit unwanted vapors and contaminants that can degrade air quality and negatively impact health. To better protect building assets and occupants, its important to select sustainable and safer cleaning solutions with low to zero VOCs, and low to no odor. Need to be pointed in the right direction? Credible, third-party certifiers and verifiers of cleaning solutions include Green Seal, UL Environment (formerly EcoLogo) and the EPAs Design for the Environment (EPA DfE).
Concentrate your cleaning. In addition to contributing to cost savings and reduced waste, highly concentrated cleaning solutions also introduce lower levels of chemicals into the building, and minimize unwanted and unpleasant chemical odors and vapors in the air.
Stop mold before it starts. To eliminate the unsightliness and health risks associated with mold, its important to use cleaning to establish a proactive and preventative approach. Routinely clean air vent covers, filters and floor drains, and avoid over-wetting surfaces to prevent mold and mildew growth. Remove any mildew deposits that do occur immediately and thoroughly.
3. An Apple a Day
A healthy diet is an important first step toward a strong immune system and bulwark against flagging energy levels and zapped productivity. As such, encouraging healthy eating habits is another way to promote wellness in the workplace. Today, more than one-third of U.S. adults are classified as obese, a leading cause of diabetes and other medical issues and expenses. Its no secret that poor nutrition can contribute to this weight gain and fatigue a problem often compounded by a sedentary lifestyle.
In an overall effort to promote and increase wellness, companies can help steer employees toward responsible food choices. Heres some food for thought to add to your checklist:
Restock the breakroom. Help employees stay alert and healthy with smart snack options that curb the munchies. Offer alternatives to candy bars, sugary drinks and pastries in the office breakroom. For example, snacks and refreshments including trail mix, granola bars and bottled water are popular, healthy items that are easy to stock. By making these items freely available to employees, you can curtail out-of-office snack runs and the ensuing lost productivity as well.
Arrange for fresh fruit deliveries. Instead of bringing in donuts for those monthly meetings, opt for more natural sugars, and consider treating employees to fresh fruit instead. Partnering with a company that provides fruit delivery services can ensure you have healthy and tasty snacks available. Look at whats on the menu for lunch too. Lunch meetings can be healthier and reinvigorating when you order in salads, instead of pizza or sandwiches.
Scrutinize the vending machines. If possible, help employees avoid temptation lurking in the vending machines by stocking the machines with healthy options low in saturated fat and sodium.
Combine healthy food with other healthy habits. For example, enabling employees to incorporate short bursts of exercise into the workday can promote wellness and increase focus. So encourage employees to take breaks when possible whether its walking around the office during lunch or even doing stretches at their desks. You can use posters to highlight beneficial at-desk stretches.
4. Fight the Flu
The flu and other colds, especially when working in close quarters, can have a domino effect in the workplace taking down workers and seriously hindering productivity. There are real, hard costs associated with the flu too studies show it costs U.S. employers $76.7 million a year in employee absenteeism and other indirect expenses . But as temperatures drop, it doesnt have to be inevitable that sniffles and sneezes follow to invade the office.
Put the following items on your checklist to inhibit germs and keep staff healthy:
Wipe-down common-touch surfaces. Think of how many people have touched those door handles, stair railings, elevator buttons, copiers, and conference room phones, water coolers, vending machines and ATMs. Sanitizing these common-touch surfaces frequently even more so during flu season is critical to keeping germs at bay. Even if a surface appears to be clean, it could still be harboring germs, so its important to establish regular cleaning routines, and educate employees on hand-washing. Items that individual employees touch frequently can harbor germs too. Studies show that one-third of employees believe their keyboards and phones are the dirtiest items in the office but less than 10 percent say they clean them often . By providing sanitizing wipes and encouraging employees to wipe down their workstations, you can foster a cleaner, healthier office environment.
Provide employee education. Consider formal education campaigns, including newsletters and informative posters, that encourage employees to cover your cough and sneeze in your sleeve (not hands!) when a tissue is unavailable. Again, highlight the importance offhand-washing.
5. Take Advantage of Technology
Sixty-five percent of employees say they go into the office when sick preventing them from performing at full potential, exposing their colleagues to a host of germs and even threatening the office with a bout of infections. For those times when pressing projects make it difficult to take a sick day, technology can enable employees to still work without leaving a trail of infection in their wake. Its easy and often economical for companies to provide the technology tools and know-how that contribute to a healthy work-at-home environment.
Dont wait vaccinate.
Educate employees on the importance of getting annual flu vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season usually begins in October and can last until May. Because it takes about two weeks after getting the flu shot for your body to develop protective antibodies and for the shot to become effective its a good idea to get vaccinated early, so youre covered during the onset and onslaught of flu season. You can also consider helping employees get convenient access to flu shots by having company-hosted, on-site vaccination events so employees dont get the flu and dont spread it. Work without leaving a trail of infection in their wake. Its easy and often economical for companies to provide the technology tools and know-how that contribute to a healthy work-at-home environment.
Keep these items on your checklist
Make it easy to work from home
Dont advocate toughing it out at the office, and instead encourage employees to work from home if theyre coming down with a cold. Providing the proper technology tools and infrastructure will help maximize employee productivity and out-of-office success. Top items include laptops and/or tablets for connectivity outside the office, and easy access to the companys virtual private network (VPN). Make sure employees are well-versed in security protocol as well especially if theyre accessing sensitive data and transferring important files in and out of the office.
Consider a formal telecommuting program
In addition to helping thwart germs, Telecommuting programs can have other health benefits. Where appropriate, companies can leverage technology ranging from email to videoconferencing and unified communications (UC) to implement telecommuting programs that reduce real estate costs, contribute to green goals and help promote employee health.
Through furniture and technology, companies have the opportunity to help their telecommuters be even healthier as 60 percent of teleworkers report discomfort or injury from their home office furniture and/or equipment. As a result, companies can foster wellness and productivity and drive success for their telecommuting programs with ergonomic technology and furniture offerings. Flexible, multi-purpose furniture solutions and organizers can also maximize space and versatility.
By banishing gridlock from their workday, telecommuters report being in better moods and recuperating the time for greater productivity. A recent survey shows that telecommuters stress levels dropped 25 percent on average since they started working from home, and 80 percent said they maintained a better work-life balance due to telecommuting. Their increased job satisfaction strongly correlates to increased results as 86 percent also reported increased productivity.
Its a Team Effort
Promoting wellness in the workplace should be a cohesive and collaborative effort. The initiatives, procedures and activities above span diverse parts of an organization, so it makes sense for multiple parties and stakeholders to get involved. A formal wellness program can yield great ROI with medical costs dropping about $3.27 for every dollar spent and absenteeism costs decreasing by up to $2.73 for every dollar spent.12
Organizations can also promote the formation of a wellness team tasked with identifying and implementing health-oriented programs, and gathering and synthesizing feedback. Its often helpful if the team itself is representative of the company including a diverse group of employees with different health profiles and priorities. In addition to spearheading wellness programs, the team might also encourage the formation of walking clubs, help incent employees to use the corporate gym (if available) and provide newsletters with healthy living tips.
In addition to cultivating wellness with a dedicated team and through areas including furniture, technology and cleaning supply fulfillment, HR can also play a strategic and educational role for example, driving awareness of any health insurance benefits employees can take advantage of. These often include gym membership reimbursements, weight loss program discounts, smoking cessation programs, health risk assessments and more.
Its often easy and cost-effective to take steps to foster a healthier work environment. With areas including office design, cleaning routines, healthy snacks, flu prevention techniques and technology all having an impact, organizations can take a comprehensive look at what they need to address, develop and/or refine a checklist of their own, and raise awareness through employee education. Taking action to provide and promote a healthy workplace can help organizations demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being all while decreasing absenteeism, increasing productivity, inspiring healthy living and defraying costs. Now thats a healthy return!