Encourage your staff to maintain healthy lifestyles at work

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

We all know the importance of living a healthy lifestyle but how many of us actually do it? Every few weeks, my friends and I would say that we are going to start eating healthier and living healthier lifestyle. We even go as far as talking about how we would do it but then it always fail because life gets busy and work gets hectic. We don’t have time to squeeze in that 30 minutes workout or have the energy to prep that healthy lunch and dinner after a long day at work. Yes, this may sound like an excuse (and it may be) but there lies some truth in this, as we spend more than half of our waking hours working or commuting to work.[1]

According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in 2011, we spent on average of 36.4 hours/week at work.[2] That means on an average workweek, we spend about 7.5 hours/day, about a third of a day at work. It may not seem like a third of a day spent at work is a big deal but in fact, it is. This is why it is important for employers to help their employees in maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

As an employer, there are so many reasons to why they would want their employees to live a healthier lifestyle. Employers can’t control what employees do outside of the workplace but they can definitely affect how the employees are while they are at work so employers should try to incorporate programs to encourage healthier lifestyles at work. According to Healthy Families BC, not only are the benefits to healthy workplace beneficial to the financial bottom line by having more productive employees but it also helps with the organizational image by being corporate social responsible and also helps with the legal aspect through demonstrating due diligence with respect to employees and other stakeholders.

There are four ideas I think companies can do to help the employees in maintaining healthier lifestyles and some are very similar to those suggested at Healthy Families BC. One of the ideas is through providing a work environment that supports physical activity, such as providing an in-house shower facility and an in-house gym at the workplace. If in-house gym in not feasible, companies can try to liaise with a gym close-by and register the employees to have membership and access to the gym to workout.

Second idea is to incorporate healthier food options at vending machines. Yes, this is simple and everyone knows it but how many companies actually do it? How many companies can successfully encourage their employees to choose healthy, not so tasty snacks over those unhealthy but very delicious snacks ? Maybe companies need to consider charging less for the healthier snacks and charging more for the unhealthy snacks. Or even providing healthy snacks for free, after all, one of the benefits of healthy employees is greater productivity so the cost of snack is really insignificant in comparison to the benefit.

In addition, companies can try to liaise with healthy restaurants to provide discounts for employees to purchase lunch and dinner. As mentioned, a lot of us are too tired or have no energy to make something healthy after a long day at work. Therefore, by providing an option to purchase healthy food at a convenient location near our workplaces can help employees with maintaining a healthier lifestyle both during and after work.

The third idea is to incorporate activities that encourage employees to get active. This can be a fundraising activity involving the employees to participate in a certain run for cancer or bike for different causes. Or incorporate activities at the workplace that encourage healthy lifestyles such as making it mandatory for employees to take a 5 minute walk around the office every hour, providing employees with a balancing ball to sit on instead of a chair or ensuring employees live a work-life balance by encouraging them to not work more than a certain number of hours per week.

Fourth idea is to allow and encourage the employees to participate in committees at work to create programs that promote maintaining healthier lifestyles. Sometimes, employees just need that little push and to be held accountable for maintaining healthier lifestyles. Like Google, which allows the employees to spend a certain amount of time per week on their own projects. Companies can make it where employees are put into committees or teams and are given a few hours a month to create programs or ideas that encourage healthier lifestyles.

Companies may have health and wellness programs that encourage healthy lifestyles but it is very important to remember to communicate these programs to the employees. There is nothing worse that having great programs in place to encourage healthy lifestyles but gets wasted and not fully utilized.

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