Improving Health in the Workplace
Employees of all generations prefer to work in a healthy workplace. They often seek opportunities for better work-life balance, stress management, and diet and exercise regimes. There are two key components to creating a healthy workplace: managing stress and implementing wellness programs.
We all experience some level of stress at work. In fact, stress can often be a strong motivator to complete tasks and take action. The challenge is when our workplace stress negatively impacts our health. There are physical, mental and emotional consequences of stress, such as worry, anxiety, fear, tension, insomnia, and weight gain.
The cost of workplace stress to employers is significant in terms of loss of productivity, increased workers’ compensation claims, absenteeism, increased health care costs and turnover.
One contributor to stress is when employees are in a role that doesn’t align to their skills and interests. This situation can cause anxiety about performance, fear of job loss and disengagement.
Creating a Healthy Workplace for all Generations
It’s important to note that while a job may be stressful to one employee, it could be highly-desired by another. If managers focus on placing employees in roles where they can excel and maximize their strengths, stress can be reduced. Managers should also adjust their management style to ensure that the work environment is as engaging and motivating as possible.
An employee who enjoys working independently (typical of Gen Xers) would find a micromanager to be a key stressor. Conversely, employees who seek more guidance and attention (often Gen Ys) could feel stressed if their manager takes a ‘sink or swim’ approach, and doesn’t provide sufficient coaching and direction.
Creating a fun work environment is one of the quickest ways to alleviate workplace stress. Activities that bring colleagues together, such as group charity events or onsite activities that are fun and frivolous, can boost employee engagement and act as a pressure valve during stressful times. Doing something unexpected can break tension in the workplace.
Setting realistic objectives for how to reduce and manage workplace stress is also very important. It’s impossible to eliminate all workplace stress – nor should that be the goal. The objective for HR teams and leaders is to acknowledge stressful situations, openly communicate how the organization is planning to support employees in managing their stress, and to creating a work environment that is fun and team focused.
Workplace Wellness Programs
Workplace wellness is inherently connected to an organization’s “financial wellness”. Recent research illustrates that companies with wellness programs have better attendance, lower medical and worker compensation costs and more productive employees.
This makes sense, since employees who adopt a healthy lifestyle tend to be sick less often and more resilient to physical and mental stressors. In fact, studies have indicated that up to 75 percent of illness is due to lifestyle-related causes.
It is therefore in an organization’s best interest to have a wellness program in place. An effective program can greatly assist employees in adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyles. While some larger organizations have elaborate programs in place (on-site massage, free gym memberships), it’s important to recognize that an effective wellness program doesn’t necessarily require a large financial investment.
A basic program should focus on the two fundamentals:
- Healthy Diet and Nutrition
This information can often be obtained from community health and government organizations. Employers should provide education about the importance of good nutrition, as this is the most cost-effective way to improve health.
- Physical Exercise
Walking or other low-impact aerobic exercise programs can be organized before and after work or during breaks. Walking provides an opportunity to focus mentally before the workday, or to reduce stress after work and during breaks.
For wellness programs to thrive, it is crucial to establish a solid wellness infrastructure. This includes senior-level support and a wellness team to promote and administer the program. It also includes execution and a dedicated budget.
Implementing a workplace wellness program creates a win-win situation. It sends the message to employees that your organization cares about their well-being and as employees become healthier and happier, so does your bottom line.