Experts share tips on how to cultivate a healthier workplace.
FOR THE TYPICAL OFFICE EMPLOYEE, working the nine-to-five means sitting behind a desk for 40 hours or more per week, which can lead to health problems. Studies have shown that this sedentary behavior can lead to back problems, cardiovascular issues and even diseases such as cancer or diabetes. And staring at a glowing computer screen for the better part of a day does not help, either. But individuals and companies can avoid those risks by practicing wellness, and experts say doing so can stabilize insurance premiums and even boost camaraderie. Here are ways you can incorporate a healthier workplace, as an employer and employee.
GET UP, STAND UP
Standing desks have become an increasingly popular way to keep the blood flowing while at work. There are many variations of the desk, says Joe Gammons, owner of Office Furniture & Design Concepts in Fort Myers, including those that can be switched from sitting to standing positions, and others that come with a reminder to stand every 10 minutes on the hour. Gammons even sells a walking station, or treadmill desk, that goes up to two miles per hour. “Engineers have found that under two miles an hour you can still check emails and do things on the computer while keeping your concentration,” Gammons says.
As an employer: Consider renovating the office with height-adjustable desks for employees who prefer to work and stand throughout the day. Companies such as Naples-based Arthrex have already bought into the treadmill desks, Gammons says.
As an employee: Talk to your employer about incorporating standing desks at the office, or treat yourself to one that is sturdy and inexpensive. An online search pulls up relative products from $150 and up.
TRACK THE NUMBERS
Taking health measurements, such as a blood test, can help you figure out what wellness areas to focus on before you begin a program. “People can look healthy on the outside, but if they don’t know what’s happening inside of their bodies, they don’t know [how to help themselves],” says Robbie Roepstorff, president of Edison National Bank and chairwoman of Healthy Lee, a community health initiative. Once this is done, proper fitness or weight management plans can be introduced and measured. For example, blood pressure and cholesterol checks should be made annually.
As an employer: Encourage staff members to partake in wellness exams offered in their health insurance coverages and dish out rewards to those who do. Lee Health has offered better health premiums to participating employees and provided them with 150 “healthy bucks” that could be used toward any in-house wellness programs.
As an employee: Introduce the idea of a company-wide fitness plan to your supervisor. Area organizations, such as Healthy Lee, have programs in place to get groups started. You can also get tested independently and speak with a nutritionist or fitness advisor on what exercises and diets can work best for you.
WALK IT OUT
Getting more steps in per day is an easy, no-cost way to burn calories at the office. This can be done by holding walking meetings or reminding yourself with an alarm to take short, moving breaks each hour—even if it is just to the water station and back. Track your steps with a pedometer, activity tracker like Fitbit or cell phone tracker to mark any improvement.
As an employer: A wellness committee can organize walking meetings and walkathons with local nonprofits, and designate spaces for employees to walk without disruption. Staff members at each of Lee Health’s six facilities have encouraged use of certain stairwells to get in extra steps, says Dr. Sal Lacagnina, the organization’s system medical director of wellness and employee health. “We are really trying to put ideas in people’s heads to show you can actually get some activity in during the work day,” he adds. Roepstorff suggests gifting employees with step-tracking devices. “Every company can find those couple of dollars for minor investments like that,” she says.
As an employee: Try lightly pacing when you’re doing certain tasks, such as talking on the phone with a headset. Or do a few laps in an unused conference room while you’re brainstorming your next project.
EAT WELL, BE WELL
On busy days, eating is more for necessity than nourishment, and any quick snack—whether it’s potato chips or a sugary granola bar—usually does the trick. But speedy meals do not always need to be unhealthy. The key is nutrition education, Lacagnina says.
As an employer: Lee Health has recently ramped up its cafeteria services, offering more plant-based and vegetarian meals, Lacagnina says. If you can’t offer regular in-house meals to employees, you can still help them find the right things to eat. “Smaller companies can do nutrition education programs where people just have a lunch-and-learn and talk about healthier eating,” Lacagnina says. Seek out upcoming wellness lectures or partner with health organizations for some tips.
As an employee: Plant-based meals are a smart choice, Lacagnina says. Think salads with nonfat dressing, vegetable stir-fries with light, low-sodium sauce and zucchini noodles in place of pasta. Plan ahead for meals as much as possible, and opt for snacks such as carrots and hummus instead of cookies or cupcakes.
DO IT AS A TEAM
Fitness can be the last thing on your mind when you’re just trying to push through the pile of papers on your desk, but a buddy can help remind you. The extra motivation can also make for friendly competition. When Edison National Bank appointed a wellness committee to plan healthy programs and challenges, “the bonding, camaraderie and production levels went through the roof,” Roepstorff says.
As an employer: To implement employee health programs, appoint a wellness committee to set and track company challenges. “We place someone from each department on the committee,” says Sandy Tarquino, who oversees the Edison National Bank program. Be sure the team and challenges represent every age group in the office, Tarquino says, and treat winners to prizes like gift cards or an hour or two of time off.
As an employee: Set weekly or monthly fitness goals with coworkers. They could range from taking a certain amount of steps per day, accomplishing a set of easy workouts in the office or drinking a glass of water each hour. Consider rewarding each other with healthy lunch outings.