In safety terms, office workers are exposed to less risk than workers on a construction site or in a laboratory. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the physical and mental toll of working in an office. Office workers experience their own share of challenges, from back strain resulting from bad posture and too much sitting to mental stress from a packed schedule and few breaks.
Most office workers and managers are well aware of these problems, but little is usually done to mitigate them. Often, companies don’t know where to start and employees may not feel comfortable asking. So instead of telling you what to do, here are some examples of several workplaces that actually executed these efforts to improve their offices.
Wellesley College in Massachusetts partnered with a digital coaching service to offer its employees a stream of daily anti-stress affirmations. This approach acknowledges that employees will experience stress caused both by work and factors outside of work. The daily affirmations take something negative (stress) and turn it into something positive (resilience).
Ironically, a busy workforce means that participation in these programs is often lower than ideal. Although participation hovers around 25% at Wellesley, those who do take part have seen results.
After two years, participating employees at Wellesley have shown a 15% overall decrease in anxiety, and 3.9% decrease in overall stress.
Reducing stress should be focused on eliminating its root cause — simply too many demands in too little time. Small changes in time management can actually have large results. Cutting out unnecessary meetings and being efficient in communication can accomplish the impossible task of creating more time in the day.
One of the major drawbacks of a desk job is the lack of opportunities to stay physically active. Most employees are usually too tired to commit to a pre- or post-work exercise routine, and too busy to take a break from their workday. Job stress is another contributing factor since many stressed employees resort to overeating and overdrinking as a coping mechanism. The combination of sitting all day and excessive consumption can be toxic to physical and mental health.
Corporate wellness programs are becoming more prevalent, but on average about half of employees do not take advantage of them. A big part of why wellness programs fail is because the accountability and competitive aspects often tend to put more, not less, stress on employees. Weight loss competitions may be motivating, but they can also discourage some employees from participating.
To be effective, a fitness approach should acknowledge the fact that people are motivated by different things. Health and wellness should be a part of the company’s culture. This means replacing the junk food vending machines and the unhealthy catered lunch with healthier options. Centro, a Chicago-based marketing firm, provides its employees with fresh fruit delivery and an on-site farmers market. Fitness startup ClassPass stocks its employee kitchens with yogurt, fruit, and nuts so that employees can not only catch a break but catch a healthy break.
No room for an organic garden? Some employers have experimented with more subtle strategies. Bloomberg’s New York office has tried placing healthier food at eye level and reducing the size of cups and bowls. After complaints that employees gained too much weight around the holidays, even Google changed up its free food free-for-all and actually saw results:
Merely moving the M&Ms to a less visible location resulted in New York Google employees cutting 3.1 million calories worth out of their diets in seven weeks.
When it comes to unhealthy eating at the office, out of sight really is out of mind.
With many employees working longer hours, they are starting to feel burned out from having less time to relax and recharge. Technology enables ever-greater flexibility, so doesn’t it seem like this should be an easy fix? Yet, many employers simply haven’t built flexibility into their infrastructure.
Companies that have implemented flexible work policies tend to see a significant increase in worker happiness and productivity. A recent study reports that nearly 40 percent of employees consider workplace flexibility to be a main factor in their happiness at work. However, this same study cites that employees are often stymied by outdated technology and the lack of an established policy for remote work.
Related to the other two goals, telecommuters often find ways to enhance their own wellness, which reduces the heavy expenditure on corporate wellness programs. Workers who save a few commuting hours each day feel more in charge of their time, which they can devote to health and wellness. A recent survey of full-time employees notes that telecommuters are much more likely to pursue independent wellness activities than their office counterparts.
Flexibility also reduces stress, preventing employees from having to choose between competing responsibilities. At tech firm Asana, employees commit to time-specific goals, with flexible options for achieving them.
Employees are encouraged to come to work each day, but they set their own schedules. Employee hours are not set or tracked, and they are encouraged to work a schedule that is best for them and their families. There is no limit on time off but, she says, employees are asked to be mindful of team goals and commitments. Employees are eligible for a six-week sabbatical after three years of service.
Adopting a workable telecommuting policy clearly offers benefits beyond the immediate flexibility it provides. For many employers, the initial investment into updated technology may well be worth the savings to incorporate wellness and employee productivity.
By Aja Cacan
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