Young businesswoman meditating sitting on working table in lotus pose in her office

Live Well, Work Well: The Importance of Health and Wellness in the Workplace

Posted on: June 5, 2019

Young businesswoman meditating sitting on working table in lotus pose in her office

Staying healthy and well is important. It makes us feel better, be more productive and ultimately live longer. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40% of Americans are obese – meaning they carry more body fat then they should, given their height.

For many, the trouble is finding time and motivation to eat healthy and exercise. After spending eight hours at work and then juggling all the other responsibilities that come with being an adult, we often don’t make the effort to take care of ourselves like we should.

To help combat this and to address additional health concerns, many workplaces now offer wellness programs to employees. If you’re looking for a new job or considering changing careers, it is worth it to ask what health benefits your potential employer may offer.

According to an Aflac WorkForces Report, half of the 2,000 business-decision-makers they surveyed said their companies sponsor workplace wellness programs, up from just 30% in 2012.

Overall, companies are offering more options for employees as studies have shown that wellness programs not only provide health benefits, but also improve retention, reduce sick time and increase productivity.

Here are a few examples of health and wellness programs offered by different employers:

  • On-Site Fitness Centers: While not every company can provide all its team members with a 10,000 square-foot workout center, larger corporations like Nike, Google, Microsoft and Unilever do. General Mills, for example, features an on-campus fitness center where employees can take classes, work out and even join company sports teams. While smaller companies may not have an on-site fitness center, many form relationships with nearby recreation centers or gyms and offer employee incentives for attending classes or offer reduced membership fees.
  • Wellness Challenges: Workplace challenges such as walking competitions tracked by Fitbits, or weight loss challenges amongst co-workers or teams is another trend, and isn’t cost prohibitive. By tracking a team or individual’s progress, the challenge motivates employees to participate and often rewards them with a health-related prize.
  • Employee Assistance: Health and wellness not only means taking care of the body but the mind as well. Employee assistance programs (EAP) provide confidential support for issues like workplace or financial stress, substance abuse, depression and anxiety. These programs also help employers because it makes for happier employees. While smaller companies may not offer an EAP due to cost, a 2015 study estimated that 77% of larger companies provide this service.
  • Smoking Cessation: It’s no secret that, on average, employees who smoke cigarettes cost their employers more money due to health issues compared to non-smokers. Some workplaces have found it in their best interest to offer smoking cessation programs to their team members. Union Pacific Railroad company, for example, offers a smoking cessation program that consists of lifestyle coaching, as well as pharmacological assistance.
  • Massage: Research shows that more than 50% of lost work days are stress related. Just 15 minutes of chair massage a week has been scientifically proven to lower stress, reduce muscle tension and rejuvenate the body. Google and NASA both offer massage therapy to their team members while at work.
  • Lunch & Health Snacks: With only 30 minutes to an hour for lunch, some employees feel that they have to eat fast food when buying their lunch, but now some companies are trying to make eating better much easier by providing healthier choices at company meetings, parties and events as well as in office cafeterias and vending machines.

If your workplace doesn’t offer official programs, there are still ways to be mindful of your health throughout the workday.

You can start a walking club with co-workers and spend 10-15 minutes of your lunch break taking a brisk walk outside. Establishing a walking routine has been shown to help with maintaining a healthy weight, as well as help with preventing various conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The fresh air will help energize you and prevent the afternoon slump.

If you can’t break away from your desk but still want to exercise, there are options to help with that. An under-desk elliptical machine offers workers the ability to burn calories while sitting. If you’re a good multi-tasker and can pump your legs and type at the same time, this could be a great option.

And remember, drink plenty of water, take breaks to stand up and stretch and fill your snack drawer up with healthy options so you’re less likely to eat something high in fat or sugar.