A hot debate is raging regarding the health of American workers. Interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with presidential campaigns and national health care plans. Instead, the focus narrows in on how much influence your employer should have on your health.
The genesis of the issue can be traced back to the days of pioneer Henry Ford who required certain “healthy” behaviors from his employees if they were to be eligible for his increased minimum wage. His definition of a healthy lifestyle, which, among other things, prohibited excessive drinking, a dirty home and an unwholesome diet, was enforced by the Sociological Department Ford set up in 1913 to pay visits to the homes of employees. He eventually backed off that intrusiveness after much criticism, but the question of prioritizing employee health continues down the assembly line of Corporate America as an unfinished product for many companies.
Recently, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., a corporation dedicated to providing you with a healthy lawn, has expanded that focus considerably with efforts to fertilize the well-being of its employees too. The main drive of the initiative, which includes transforming itself into a nicotine-free workplace, is to counter the rising costs of health care by encouraging healthier lifestyles of its employees through health programs and screenings. Many have seen it transform their lives, and even a few who discovered they were a greasy cheeseburger or two away from massive heart attacks. One, though, has filed a law suit for invasion of privacy.
As far as the debate goes, there’s little doubt that having healthy employees can be a great asset, and one that keeps health care costs from rising dramatically, induces fewer sick days, lessens stress levels, and improves productivity. From an employee’s perspective, some may feel offended, but overall, most will feel good that their company values their physical and mental well-being enough to make them a priority. However, careful consideration should be given to the “encouragement” efforts to prevent them from becoming intrusive or demanding.
Overall, most employees will appreciate a company placing a premium on their health. In fact, it is the fourth foundation in our series on building the best place to work. While not everyone will become a Slim Goodbody, building a physically healthy corporate culture in these, um, unhealthy economic times is beneficial to everyone involved. So practice these exercises to help build the healthiest place to work:
Providing Basic Coverage
The primary way employers prioritize the health of employees is by providing good health coverage. Medical costs continue spiraling out of control, so offering at least some type of coverage is imperative. Dental, vision and medical flex accounts are all much appreciated and often utilized perks as well. St. Louis construction management firm S.M. Wilson strives to keep employee health insurance costs low by absorbing a great deal of the rising expense to premiums each year, and law firm Arnold & Porter’s policy is that the less income an individual makes, the less their premium costs.
Bestowing Wellness Wisdom
If a company cannot afford to give maximum health coverage, it can still provide opportunities for giving the knowledge needed to get and stay healthy. Offering onsite screenings to test cholesterol or blood pressure levels, vaccinations for influenza, and interactive workshops to lose weight or quit smoking can help foster healthy lifestyles for employees. Qualcomm takes onsite benefits to extreme levels, providing a primary-care clinic at its San Diego headquarters. Most though, such as Intel, offer various wellness programs and health coaches to educate and promote healthy living.
Working Out at Work
No pain, no gain may ring true in the gym, but many employees epitomize those words within the office walls, putting in grueling hours that often build just as much unhealthy pressure as it does progress. Offering the opportunity to relieve that stress while at the office is a great way to let employees blow off steam in a healthy fashion. Numerous companies provide onsite exercise facilities or initiatives, such as UPS’s walking and yoga programs. Others, such as CareerBuilder.com, provide health and fitness stipends that can be used for gym or health club memberships.
Giving Mental Health Breaks
Just as important as physical fitness is being of sound mind. Intense focus and high-pressure situations throughout the day can make anyone lose his or her mind. Providing outlets to catch a quick break and recharge the mental batteries are elements many companies have incorporated to make the workplace more accommodating, keep workers happy, and, as multiple experts claim, increase productivity and accomplishments. Online giant Google Inc. spares no expense in these regards, providing a video-game, plasma TV screen-laden break room, as well as air hockey, ping-pong tables and massage rooms. Aside from being fun, it stimulates the mind and builds camaraderie.
If the adage “you are what you eat” is true, then organizations should offer employees options for eating right. Don’t infringe on the rights of those who need a Snickers to satisfy themselves by purging the vending machines of all things sweet, but do provide healthy options, such as making fruit and vegetables available for public consumption. Also, having hot tea as a viable caffeinated choice instead of coffee or soda can give employees a natural mid-day boost to carry them until the final whistle blows. Missouri’s Clayco Construction provides employees access to a nutritionist, and San Francisco-based biotech firm Genentech offers an onsite farmers’ market for direct access to full servings of healthy fare.