Promoting Health in the Workplace

“There’s no question that workplace wellness is worth it. The only question is whether you’re going to do it today or tomorrow. Get it on today.” – Warren Buffet

We discussed previously how happy employees make happy customers, who in turn account for the company’s success. To improve productivity you need happy employees and a workplace that is free from negativity and friction. Promoting health in the workplace is a crucial part of the company’s leadership responsibilities. With the surge of globalization and new technology being thrust on us regularly, there has been a dramatic change in the way people work, communicate, interact with others even in their personal lives and also how companies operate. Despite more technology everyone seems to be short on time – for themselves and for those they care about and over time this causes stress and burnout resulting in a not so healthy work force. Companies must earnestly look at introducing health policies and strategies with the aim of promoting health and wellness in the workplace. This will not only affect how employees work in the office but also will be more relaxed and at peace in their personal realm.

There have been profound and mind-boggling changes in the lifestyle of people with the surge of digitization and new found ‘freedom’ afforded to them by smart devices and applications. Despite technology all around us, it seems that health and wellness in the workplace is not improving but rather deterioating and this seems to be a global phenomenon. The highly demanding and constantly in a state of fludity, most current organizations have stressed and burned out staff leading to high attrition and low productivity. New technology, equipment and rapid changes in work methods in putting employees in a tizzy and most are unable to cope with these fluctuations and are falling prey to lifestyle related illnesses that slowly take over their lives. In a bid to cut costs and reduce overheads, companies are also leaning towards outsourcing work, giving short term contracts and other such highly flexible but unstable working conditions leading to employees constantly working in fear of losing their job. With so many new employees, increased competitiveness, shrinking budgets and job shortages – company employees continue to feel pressured and their sense of unrest is translated into a high unstable workplace that is negative and highly volatile.

While women empowerment is a great initiative and newer enterprises are encouraging and recruiting women into their taskforce. However, most women continue to be responsible for the health, food and other domestic tasks of their homes. The stress of managing both the home and work front with long hours and lack of flexible working hours, is driving people towards processed foods, fast foods and other such unhealthy eating options. Such eating habits over the long term causes illness and results in high absenteeism and also reduced efficiency at work.

While more companies and better technology could be reasons to contribute to economic growth, the unstable work environments, high stress, difficult co-workers and unhealthy food habits are all contributing to poor wellness and health in the workplace. Poor lifestyles is leading people to be nutritionally deficient, catch lifestyle related deadly illness, put on huge amounts of weight and also end up with mentally degenerating diseases.

The demand for more output in lesser number of hours and with fewer employees, has also led to people going for long hours (12-14 hours) without any physical exercise and being glued to their workstations. Lunch in office has become a task with most people spending a maximum of 5-10 minutes eating – or should we say gulping down food. Most people either don’t eat or buy unhealthy foods high in preservatives and food colouring. As people get more stressed their mental capability and increases their vulnerability to degenerative illnesses, infections and other forms of ill-health. Highly stressed out workplace also results in employees being irritable and angry in their homes leading to a deterioration in their home environment – completing the vicious cycle of stress and ill-health.

Not promoting health in the workplace increases expenditure for companies too. Apart from low productivity, regularly ill employees account for the loss of several valuable man-hours. Overweight, chronically ill, stressed and under-nourished employees are also often sleep deprived leading to low concentration and high levels of irritability. Poor eating that leads to malnutrition can contribute to a reduction in productivity by up to 20%. Lowered immunity and high deficiency leads to sluggishness, lethargy and loss of up to 30% loss in work capacity. Given long and frenzied work hours, we mentioned that employees often skip their meals – this over time leads to lowered blood sugar levels which shortens attention span and also reduces the speed at which a person can mentally juggle information and make good use of it. Employees that become overweight feel unfit and this again leads to being absent from work, lowered morale and low self-esteem. Continued and repeated absence drops efficiency and productivity leading to poor customer service, product quality and also increased workload for those employees who need to cover up for the lost man-hours.

Companies must begin to seriously evaluate these long term costs and understand how important nutrition and good eating habits will help in promoting health in the workplace. Since people spend at least two-thirds of each day at work, companies should look at providing healthy meals at work to prevent these health related problems. Even minor changes such as introducing healthy food options, reducing high risk items like sugar, caffeine and fatty foods and encourage a cordial and stress free work environment, will work wonders in promoting health in the workplace. As people feel healthier and mentally active, they are able to cope with stress and long work hours better.

Companies can also invest in programs and training to educate their employees and build awareness of the negative impacts of stress and unhealthy food habit. These programs will provide tips to the staff on how to introduce small changes that will have a long-term positive impact on their health and that of their co-workers and family. As companies take more interest in promoting health in the workplace, employees feel closer to and happier working in the company. This promotes better attendance at work, lower staff attrition, increased productivity, congenial work environment, lower costs on health insurance claims and staff that are highly motivated and have increased self-confidence and are ready to make the necessary contribution to serve the customers.

It is in a company’s best interest to have a happy workforce and take steps towards promoting health in the office. Not just from an internal productivity standpoint, but when a company is recognized as a good employer – that takes interest in the health and wellness of its employees, the reputation of such a company soars. Customers are reassured and want to work with a company in the belief that if the company takes care of its employees, they would definitely pay close attention to the needs and expectations of their customers. Also a happy workforce makes for great customer service and high quality products. Such companies are also able to attract the best employees to work for them, making it a complete circle of productivity, success and sustained growth for any company.

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