Strong businesses need healthy engaged employees. The average person spends more time at work than in any other daily activity and for many of us, that means eight plus hours spent sitting at a desk in front of a computer, on the phone and in meetings. While rising healthcare costs are certainly a driving factor in the equation, companies are realizing that employee health and well-being is central to their employees’ engagement, productivity, performance and overall quality of life. Since these are all factors that affect the bottom line, it only makes sense for organizations to create an environment and foster a culture that is more focused on the health and well-being of employees.
Traditionally, the advice has focused on everything from standing desks, to encouraging more frequent breaks to walking around the office to discounts on gym memberships. But shrewd companies are taking things a step further, not only because it is the right thing to do for their employees and but also because of the potential financial gains. One innovative example is “active meetings” where employees are encouraged to stand, walk around and even exercise in the middle of business meetings. Other examples include adding exercise breaks to meeting agendas and conducting informal meetings or one-on-one conversations while taking a walk outside.
An even broader approach to corporate health and well-being is currently being piloted in central Florida. Sodexo and the YMCA have partnered to host a groundbreaking 3-year pilot program, entitled Communities for Health, aimed at combating preventable chronic illnesses. The initiative will establish a coordinated support system that delivers solutions tailored to individual employee needs to help families live healthier, happier and more productive lives. Communities for Health will enhance traditional, and mostly underutilized, employee wellness programs through a comprehensive, system-based approach that engages employees at work and at home, increasing the likelihood of success and yielding a more significant impact than traditional workplace wellness initiatives.
Any additional movement or physical activity can make a difference. A prominent example for wellness programs may be the 120-employee Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), which devised a five-year, multi-faceted plan to manage health costs. They added a third, high-deductible medical plan and simultaneously accelerated their in-office commitment to help employees stay healthy. And NEI’s commitment is impressive – on-site salsa and belly-dancing classes, Weight Watchers and healthy cooking classes, and even occasional acupuncture seminars. NEI also holds a healthy living competition in which teams of four compete for $200 prizes by logging steps on individual pedometers, and they host a healthy foods potluck judged by a nutritionist. These programs encourage competition and camaraderie, and while their bottom line benefits haven’t been measured to date, common sense (and employee engagement studies) indicate that companies are taking wellness seriously. In a recent Quality of Life Observer survey, 96% of global leaders said that they believe quality of life in their organization is important because it has an effect on their performance and that taking steps to improve employees’ quality of life is a strategic investment.
So while every company may not want to offer a menu of activities a la the NEI, everyone can do something. Like at Motley Fool, employees can be encouraged to get up during meetings and do pushups or sit against the wall. The National Institute of Health Go4Life site offers good tips on making meetings more active, with baby steps to get started that will encourage the most reticent to get up and get moving. And finally, lose the traditional candy bowls and afternoon coffee and cookie breaks in favor of fresh fruit and vegetable platters – you want to accentuate the benefits of an active meeting, not slow your team members down!
Deborah Hecker is Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.