The United States has a reputation for prioritizing work over health or recreation. Productivity is highly valued, and the majority of Americans work long hours and, often, endure lengthy commutes getting to and from work. Because of long work weeks, many Americans feel they lack sufficient time to relax, connect with family and friends, exercise, or pursue hobbies. Even for individuals who are happy in their work and satisfied with their careers, long work hours are proven to lead to higher stress and lower quality of life. At the same time, it is unlikely U.S. work weeks will be shortened any time soon.
Luckily, studies show that U.S. employers are aware of this problem and, in response, are increasingly emphasizing the importance of wellness in the workplace. By promoting health and wellness at work, employers are better able to boost morale, lower staff stress levels, and attract and keep talent at their organizations.
Some larger companies have begun implementing Employee Wellness Programs or appointing Health Committees in the workplace. While rolling out a full-scale program can be more challenging for smaller companies, many choose to introduce less formal wellness-based activities for employees. Common workplace health initiatives that are low in cost and easy to implement, yet still highly effective, include:
- Relaxing dress codes. Many employers are no longer enforcing strict workplace dress codes on days when employees aren’t interfacing with clients. This allows employees to be more relaxed and comfortable, while also increasing the likelihood that they’ll walk or bike to work.
- Encouraging staff to share their wellness goals. Employers can easily install a white board in a well-traveled area of the office and encourage people to scribble down their health-related goals and achievements for others to see.
- Playing music. Streaming upbeat music at a reasonable volume can be very effective for employers looking to upgrade their office atmosphere. Studies show that music reduces stress, improves mood, and helps boost productivity and creativity.
- Providing ergonomic office chairs. Employers must provide seating for employees regardless, so why not choose chairs that are comfortable? Ergonomic chairs provide lower back support, promote good posture, and help alleviate back pain.
- Discouraging people from working while sick. Workplaces that discourage employees from taking sick leave report higher turnover and lower staff morale. Employees in these offices also tend to be sick more often, as coworkers pass illnesses back and forth. Employers who offer ample sick leave, and discourage their staff from working while sick, reap real benefits.
- Holding lunch-and-learn programs. Many organizations, such as the American Heart Association, American Red Cross and American Cancer Society, are available to provide free workplace presentations and leave-behind literature for staff. Employers simply have to call and set up an appointment.
- Posting a list of flu shot locations. Making employees aware of where they can access flu shots, and even offering to cover part of the cost, is a great way for employers to help their staff while also avoiding office-wide illness during flu season.
- Keeping the kitchen junk food free. Agreeing not to use the office kitchen or break room as a dumping ground for leftover baked goods or candy can go a long way toward increasing employee health. Providing healthy choices at lunch meetings and office celebrations also encourages staff to think beyond cupcakes and soda.
The growing national trend emphasizing health and wellness in the workplace has not gone unnoticed by local employers. UF has developed programming (both independently and in conjunction with UF Health, GatorCare, and other campus organizations) to offer a faculty and staff wellness program that is open to UF and UF Health Shands employees. The program offers free group classes, including yoga, Pilates, and Zumba and also holds challenges to encourage employees to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as increasing their water consumption or hours of sleep at night. “The Wellness Program supports the health and well-being of UF and UF Health employees in an effort to build a healthy academic community for all,” said Kim Holton, Ph.D., Health Promotion Specialist at UF.
Local event marketing company, Feathr, allows dogs to be brought into the office, which is great for morale and encourages walk breaks throughout the day. Naylor Association Solutions, also housed in Gainesville, holds an annual Health & Wellness Fair for employees where they provide massage therapists, acupuncturists, hearing and vision tests and blood pressure tests, among other wellness-related activities. “The Health & Wellness Fair is a great opportunity to receive health screenings and tests at no cost, as well as to learn more about businesses in the healthcare sector locally. I love that the company does this for employees each year,” said Naylor Marketing and Research Manager Brianna Martin.
Other health-related staff activities carried out by local employers include holding weekly health food potlucks and signing up staff for local softball, kickball or bowling leagues to encourage interaction and activity. Weight loss competitions, such as The Biggest Loser office contest, are also commonly held to encourage employees to shed pounds while being rewarded with prizes.
The positive effects of wellness in the workplace are not only experienced by employees; the benefits for employers themselves are also well-documented. They include:
- Increased staff productivity and efficiency
- Decreased workplace anxiety, tension and stress
- Enhancing creativity and communication
- Promoting a team-building attitude
- Improving absenteeism rates
- Fewer employee injuries and illnesses
- Fewer worker compensation and health claims
- Improving the overall business bottom line
Promoting wellness in the workplace is a true win/win!
By Rebecca Wentworth