Health

American Workplaces Are Unhealthy. Here's How to Fix Them.

Published On 07/25/2016 Published On 07/25/2016
health workplace
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Creating a healthy work environment expands far beyond sending your flu-stricken cube-mate home for the day (but please go home if you're hacking up a lung). And yes, luckily most people no longer make ends meet by way of coal mining or producing shirtwaist blouses, a la the early 20th century. Today, a healthy place of business is just as much about employee wellness and satisfaction as it is about physical health.

Though technological advances are supposed to make our lives easier, we all somehow seem to be working harder now in corporate America. This can lead to severe burnout and decreased morale if a company doesn't make team wellness a front-running matter.

A "healthy" office should be safe, empowering, and fulfilling for employees… and, dare I say, fun. With that, here are some ideas for progressive health and wellness initiatives that may even have you wanting to get up for work.

Give employees the right to disconnect

The French government recently passed a new labor law to amend the country's working circumstances. Granted, the bill was unpopular with citizens overall (it ultimately shifted a good deal of power from workers to managers), but one of its provisions supports the worker's right to disconnect -- which is something we can certainly benefit from in America, too.

In our high-tech era, it's become the norm to bring our office lives home with us; to check work emails at the dinner table and take business calls on vacation. Somewhere along the line (I'm looking at you, iPhone), we conceived the notion that we always have to be "on." This unbalanced lifestyle blurs the line of work life and personal life, a line we need to honor for the sake of our well-being and productivity when we are on the clock. The newly passed overtime rule is definitely a step in the right direction -- at least if you do stay until 9pm to work on those Excel spreadsheets, you'll finally be compensated for it.

Require paid family leave...

Here's a great example of American exceptionalism: we're the only country in the OECD that doesn't require employers to give paid maternity leave. Even a bastion of equality like Turkey mandates 16 paid weeks, a nod to the important role family connections play in overall health and well-being. America could go even further by offering paternity leave -- new dads could use a little time off, too!

… and guaranteed paid vacation

Vacations are good for you! For real! In a paper on the subject, the authors throw serious shade on American vacation policies, simply writing, "The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation." Which, on further review, isn't so much "shade" as "a statement of fact." All work and no play makes America a stressed-out, frustrated, and sedentary bunch of employees.

GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Offer flexible working arrangements

A "normal" 9-to-5 schedule works great for some people, but not for the employee who goes to spin class before heading to the office, or the one who frequently suffers from writer's block before noon. Flexible office hours allow workers to tailor their schedules to their lifestyles, and well-balanced, happy workers create higher-quality work.

The option to telecommute -- even one day a week -- also has its perks. A recent survey says that remote workers are actually more productive, happier, and less stressed, since they get more time with their families and avoid long, miserable commutes. The science backs up the health benefits of flexible work schedules. Plus, sometimes you just want to take that client call in your skivvies with a homemade Nespresso and your dog Winston.

Provide basic health services on location

Speaking from experience, I know I'm much more likely to get a flu shot or a full-body screening for skin cancer if my company brings a healthcare professional into the office to do them down the hall, for free. Just saying.

Make in-office naps standard

Bigwig organizations like Huffington Post, Google, and Procter & Gamble all encourage sleeping on the job, courtesy of their in-office nap rooms and nap pods. In a 2011 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 43% of Americans claim they don't get enough sleep during the week. And while naps can't replace good-quality slumber, 20-30 minutes of shut-eye can still go a long way when it comes to increased performance, creativity, alertness, and overall health. Just please make sure you wipe away any nap drool before returning to your cubicle.

Create an environment that encourages standing and moving

Living the sedentary corporate life leads to serious health consequences, which you probably know by now. When you sit on your ass for eight or more hours a day, you're burning fewer calories, slowing your metabolism, and increasing your risk of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. Enter the newly popular adjustable standing work desk: a workstation that adjusts in height so employees can sit and stand as they please throughout the day while still plugging away on that PowerPoint.

As I'm seated at my desk writing this article, I'm wondering why the hell more companies haven't gotten behind this yet. In fact, businesses could go even further by making it acceptable to work out in the office.

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

Encourage team relaxation

A "healthy" work environment should embolden more than just physical health, though that's obviously super important, too. Employees want to feel like they can do their jobs in a calm, collected way; chronic stress can have serious long-term health consequences, which affect quality of work AND life. Why not incorporate group breaks or walking meetings into your schedules to keep the creative juices flowing, or invite a yoga instructor to come lead a lunchtime group practice? Yes, staying in child's pose the whole time is acceptable.

In-office trampolines

I mean, have you ever seen someone look miserable jumping on a trampoline?

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Brooke Sager is an NYC-based contributing writer for Thrillist who plans on writing her next story from a standing desk on a trampoline. Follow her post-9-to-5 escapades on Instagram and Twitter: @HIHEELZbrooke.

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