Companies today are making strides at prioritizing health in the workplace — everything from conquering sniffles and sneezes to reducing aches and pains. By emphasizing workplace wellness, companies can reduce absenteeism, boost productivity and increase employee retention. The following five areas are ways your company can promote employee wellness and integrate healthy living initiatives into your work environment.
1. Office Design with Wellness in Mind
During the workweek, the office becomes, in many cases, a home away from home. Many employees spend at least half their waking hours there — logging in more time sitting in their chairs than sleeping in bed each night. From office chairs and keyboards to ceiling lights, companies have countless opportunities to link the design of employee workspaces and the overall office to wellness principles.
To create an office design that promotes wellness, keep the following in mind:
- Evaluate the ergonomics: Work might be, quite literally, a pain in the neck without furniture that can support employees and allow them to perform their daily tasks comfortably. In fact, 86 percent of workers report experiencing some discomfort from their office furniture or equipment. The positive spin on this is that it’s often easy and cost-effective to foster a more comfortable office environment by providing ergonomic chairs and keyboards, and adjustable height desks and monitor stands. This allows companies to increase comfort and wellness in the workplace, while decreasing potential worker compensation claims.
- Examine indoor air quality: You may not be able to see indoor air pollutants, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. In fact, according to regulations, the levels of indoor air pollutants may be anywhere from five to 100 times higher than outdoor levels. To avoid triggering or aggravating allergies, your company should consider the fabrics used on furniture in the office, try to use low- or non-toxic paints, and bring in plants to counteract any pollutants that do exist.
- A bright idea: Look at lighting. You can improve visibility and worker morale, as well as reduce eye strain, by paying attention to interior lighting. In addition to elevating moods, access to natural light and daylight can also help companies attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits. Light dimmers and automatic shut-off controls contribute to LEED credits as well, which will help employees adjust lighting to their comfort level and preferences.
2. Clean Up Your Act
- Use floor mats: In addition to presenting an unkempt image, dirty and slippery floors can also pose a health and safety hazard to building occupants. Providing floor mats in entryways is an important first step in combating these problems. In fact, with a high-performance matting system, roughly 90 percent of the dirt and soil brought into any building can be contained within the first 10 to 15 feet.
- Seek sustainable cleaning solutions. Traditional cleaning chemicals can emit unwanted vapours and contaminants that can degrade air quality and negatively impact health. To better protect building assets and occupants, it’s important to select sustainable and safer cleaning solutions with low to zero VOCs, and low to no odor.
- Stop mould before it starts. To eliminate the unsightliness and health risks associated with mould, it’s important to use cleaning products to establish a proactive and preventive approach. Routinely clean air vent covers, filters and floor drains, and avoid over-wetting surfaces to prevent mould and mildew growth. Remove any mildew deposits that do occur immediately and thoroughly.
3. An Apple a Day…
A healthy diet is an important first step toward a strong immune system and against dragging energy levels. Encouraging healthy eating habits is another way to promote wellness in the workplace. It’s no secret that nutrition can contribute to weight gain and fatigue — problems often compounded by a sedentary lifestyle. In an overall effort to promote and increase wellness, companies can help steer employees toward responsible food choices. Here’s some food for thought to add to your checklist:
- Restock the break room: Help employees stay alert and healthy with smart snack options that curb the munchies. Offer options such as trail mix, granola bars and bottled water are popular — plus, they’re easy to stock. By making these items freely available to employees, you can curtail out-of-office snack runs and low productivity levels.
- Arrange for fresh fruit deliveries: Instead of bringing in donuts for those monthly meetings, opt for more natural sugars, and consider treating employees to fresh fruit. Partnering with a company that provides fruit delivery services can ensure you have healthy and tasty snacks available. Look at what’s on the menu for lunch too. Lunch meetings can be healthy and reinvigorating when you order in salads, instead of pizza or sandwiches.
- Scrutinize the vending machines. If possible, help employees avoid temptation lurking in the vending machines by stocking the machines with healthy options – low in saturated fat and sodium.
4. Fight the Flu
The flu and other colds, especially when working in close quarters, can have a domino effect in the workplace — taking down workers and seriously hindering productivity. But as temperatures drop, it doesn’t have to be inevitable that sniffles and sneezes follow to invade the office.
Put the following items on your checklist to inhibit germs and keep staff healthy:
- Wipe-down common-touch surfaces: Think of how many people have touched those door handles, stair railings, elevator buttons, copiers, and conference room phones, water coolers, vending machines and ATMs. Sanitizing these common-touch surfaces frequently — even more so during flu season — is critical to keeping germs at bay. Even if a surface appears to be clean, it could still be harboring germs, so it’s important to establish regular cleaning routines, and educate employees on hand-washing. Items that individual employees touch frequently can harbor germs too. Studies show that one-third of employees believe their keyboards and phones are the dirtiest items in the office, but less than 10 percent say they clean them often. By providing sanitizing wipes and encouraging employees to wipe down their workstations, you can foster a cleaner, healthier office environment.
- Provide employee education: Consider formal education campaigns, including newsletters and informative posters, that encourage employees to “cover your cough” and “sneeze in your sleeve” (not hands) when a tissue is unavailable. Again, highlight the importance of hand-washing.
5. Take Advantage of Technology
Sixty-five percent of employees say they go into the office when sick, preventing them from performing at full potential, exposing their colleagues to a host of germs and even threatening the office with a bout of infections. For those times when pressing projects make it difficult to take a sick day, technology can enable employees to still work without leaving a trail of infection in their wake. It’s easy and often economical for companies to provide the technology tools and know-how that contribute to a healthy work-at-home environment.
- Don’t wait — vaccinate: Educate employees on the importance of getting annual flu vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season usually begins in October and can last until May. Because it takes about two weeks after getting the flu shot for your body to develop protective antibodies — and for the shot to become effective — it’s a good idea to get vaccinated early, so you’re covered during the onset and onslaught of flu season.
- Make it easy to work from home: Don’t advocate toughing it out at the office. Instead encourage employees to work from home if they’re coming down with a cold. Providing the proper technology tools and infrastructure will help maximize employee productivity and out-of-office success. Top items include laptops and/or tablets for connectivity outside the office, and easy access to the company’s virtual private network (VPN). Make sure employees are well-versed in security protocol as well, especially if they’re accessing sensitive data and transferring important files in and out of the office.
It’s a Team Effort
Promoting wellness in the workplace should be a cohesive and collaborative effort. The initiatives, procedures and activities above span diverse parts of an organization, so it makes sense for multiple parties and stakeholders to get involved. Taking action to provide and promote a healthy workplace can help organizations demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being, while decreasing absenteeism, increasing productivity, inspiring healthy living and defraying costs. Now that’s a healthy return!