Reading in the office

As COVID-19 continues to present us with new challenges and insights, we are becoming increasingly aware of the need for mental health support. On top of that, with stresses/anxieties high, our need for physical presence and community is pressing than ever before. Employers are also recognizing the need not just for improved fitness levels but better overall health among their employees.

Science overwhelmingly supports the use of exercise for supporting mental health and reducing the risk of illness. For this reason, we should begin to consider organizational structures that encourage healthy behaviors in employees.

According to the World Health Organization, most adults spend a third of their adult lives at work. With so much of our day spent in the office, it becomes imperative that corporate offices make more of an effort toward supporting employee health and personal care.

A 2010 review of the U.S. Workplace Wellness Market stated that the percentage of companies offering corporate wellness programs rose from 51% in 1998 to 60% in 2008. Additionally, 42% of employers planned to expand their wellness program offerings in the last four years.

Cross company studies cited in the BMC Public Health Journal, emphasize that authorities in the public health sector highly encourage employers to promote physical activity in the workplace. This trend amply demonstrates that employers are realizing the negative impacts of unhealthy lifestyles on their workforce and appreciate the cost savings afforded through improved employee lifestyles and reduced insurance health premiums.

In a discussion paper by Oswald, Proto and Sgrio on Happiness and Productivity, it is cited that happy, healthy employees are 10-12% more productive in their workplace roles.

Since the conditions of a work environment can have a positive or negative impact on health and well-being, it is important to identify the factors that may or may not contribute to promoting healthy behaviors.

As stated in an article by Bennett Tepper in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, the most commonly reported cause of stress is the manager and employee relationship. The American Psychological Association also cites an article by Gilbreath and Benson stating that manager behavior can have a significant impact on health outcomes of subordinates. These results suggest that organizational support is a key driver behind enrollment and participation in healthy activities.

Another factor companies and employers should consider in promoting healthy habits is the use of financial incentives and comprehensive programming.

The RAND research organization, whose work focuses on the development of public policy solutions, found that workplace incentives increased participation by 20%. It also noted that larger incentives were not necessarily better, but that all-inclusive programming lead to the largest increase in employee participation.

Despite compelling research that participation in corporate wellness programs showed a reduction in sick leave usage, and an increase of productivity and company morale, there still remains a substantial percentage of employees who do not participate.

Given the current climate, it is imperative that employers understand the profound impact that employee health can have upon their business and to acknowledge the influence that top-level executives have upon the overall health of their employees.

Lastly, keep this in mind: Although organizing healthy workplaces for healthier employees requires a great amount of resources, the resulting reward is worth every ounce of effort.

Theresa Peasley is the director of wellness and a personal trainer at the YMCA.