How Workplaces are Rethinking Employee Health
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As the ancient Roman poet Virgil once said, “The greatest wealth is your health.” And when it comes to working, many Americans are thinking more about how to balance the pursuit of wealth with the pursuit of good health. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers spend an average of 8.8 hours a day at work. Add that up and it starts making a whole lot of sense that a healthy workplace should be a priority. And lately, more companies are thinking beyond ergonomic chairs, treadmill desks, and paid sick days to make well-being a more natural part of the daily nine to five.
According to Brandan Hardie, Executive Director of the National Wellness Institute, the workplace should focus on “a wellness culture beyond fitness and nutrition. There should be intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual components as well.”
A company well-known for taking this message to heart, Google is famous for its giant slides, pools, bikes, and volleyball courts. With an onsite hair salon, massage therapist, and laundry center, employees’ personal stress and time management are taken care of. And, as for employees’ nutrition, Google has a food court designed with behavioral economics in mind, putting healthier foods in more accessible area in plain view and less healthy foods in harder to reach locations. An additional perk is that the tech company allows dogs at work. Employees get to spend more time with their pets, and dogs help employees take needed mental breaks when they go outside together.
Also focusing on emotional and social wellness through dog-friendly policies is outdoor clothing company Ibex, whose job descriptions state, “Must love dogs.” With 50 plus employees, up to 16 dogs can often be found wandering through the office (ranging from Pomeranians to Huskies). And although having dogs in a working environment requires planning to keep things orderly, Keith Anderson, Vice President of Marketing, says that being dog-friendly is a natural part of the business’ ethos and makes a lot of sense.
“In general, morale and attitudes are much better when there are dogs in the office. They put people at ease,” Anderson says. “It’s a big commitment and it takes energy, flexibility and forethought, but what you get out of it as a business is quite great. If you can make someone’s day at work more tolerable, or enjoyable, or more emotionally satisfying, how great is that?”
According to the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Anderson is onto the right idea. In one study, employees with workplace dogs reported a significantly lower stress rate pattern than those with no dogs and indicated a higher job satisfaction than industry norms. Some companies like Chipotle and MGM Grand even foster pet relationships by adding pet insurance to benefits packages in an effort to help employees take better care of their pets.
While many companies are seeing the benefits of having more dog-friendly policies, other companies are finding additional ways to think healthy, from Nationwide Insurance’s brain-training games to CHG Healthcare Services’ daily afternoon “Stretchy Stretchy” routine. Psychotherapist and former Employee Assistant Program management consultant Paul Kundinger says that Employee Assistance Programs can work with companies to bring experts onsite to do “team building exercises, strengthen group cohesion, and discuss stress management techniques.” And as employee health becomes more of a priority for companies, some are incentivizing wellness programs by rewarding employees who maintain healthy weight, get in-house health risk assessments (HRAs) and regular checkups, quit smoking, or make wiser food choices.
Ultimately, our health is up to us, but companies are realizing that customized benefits and wellness programs make it easier to keep employees happy and manage our lives, stress levels, and overall health. Whether that means bringing pets into the workplace, creating extra lifestyle perks, or changing the work routine with activities that break up the day, it’s possible to make workplace wellness a more natural part of the daily nine to five.
Click here to learn more about how Ibex welcomed pets in its workplace though Purina’s Pets at Work initiative, which provides steps for a healthier, more pet-friendly workplace.