Fundamentals of a Healthy Workplace Environment

Article by Tyler Bastianelli
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2013-7_fundamentalsby Dr. Paul Kennedy, Wellness Outreach Doctor – July 2013 Topic of the Month

All of us probably have some things about our work environment (indoors or outdoors) that we would like to improve to make our lives easier, safer and even healthier. Indoors or outdoors, there are always things that can be done by ourselves or those that we work with that can improve our lives and our ability to do our jobs well. The checklist of health and safety measures for our outdoor and indoor work environments are similar in some ways and, of course, different in others. So a brief discussion of a list of those items that should be part of a healthy and productive workplace would be in order as a way of improving our lives and our careers. They are in no special order but all are important and are repeatedly requested or suggested by employees and even health and wellness professionals in many places of work. Not every jobsite or place of business is perfect but a few improvement here and there can really boost employee wellness AND the company bottom line. See if your list matches mine!

The first area usually suggested for improvement is the proximal working environment—in other words, the area near or around our personal workspace. Usually, simple improvements such as adequate lighting, a comfortably sized workspace (cubicle?) with sufficient ventilation and airflow are an inexpensive and efficient way to keep employees comfortable and focused. Tight spaces with inadequate airflow and poor lighting can actually reduce productivity and increase the average number of sick days. Another coming advance in workspace “technologies” are standing desks and even treadmill desks. These innovative ideas allow more movement when desired (in other words, you don’t have to stand or walk ALL DAY) and are remarkably easy to interface with current office environments. And as we already know, sitting ALL DAY is not the best way to keep our bodies healthy and fit (despite ergonomically designed chairs) but by standing or walking for at least part of the day, we can increase the number of calories that we “burn” each day.

Every work environment should plan or allow for sufficient access to food, water and healthy snacks. By providing some of these items for free (such as healthy snacks), productivity and job satisfaction is generally improved. Consider also that you may be able to establish a flexible work schedule thanks to the advances of the computer age. Indeed, many individuals now spend part of their work week at home which allows them to turn some of their commuting time into active pursuits that will improve health and wellness. For those that work in an office or for companies that have a central office, consider scheduling exercise classes such as yoga and step classes in the morning, afternoon or even after work if space permits. It is possible that someone in your office or company can teach such a class or consider paying a professional to schedule and lead the class if the budget allows. Fitness and wellness lectures (also known as “Lunch and Learn” classes) can help employees to focus on or learn more about simple fitness and wellness habits and activities in addition to “burning” more calories and controlling or losing unwanted body weight. Forming fitness “clubs” for activities such a walking, running, hiking, biking, etc. can help others to get involved in a more active lifestyle.  Installing a well-equipped fitness center accessible to all employees (not just management!) is another great way to get employees launched on a regular exercise plan that will pay for itself over time in lower employee health costs.

And finally, engagement and encouragement from upper management is a major part of any company fitness and wellness program.  An encouraging word every now and then concerning employee health and wellness is a simple and inexpensive way to let employees know that they are special and are cared for as a part of the “team”. Moreover, small health insurance incentives to lose weight, stop smoking or reduce blood pressure can, over time, have a multiplicative effect on participation and results. After all, a healthier workforce is a happier and more productive workforce with lower absenteeism and fewer injuries. And besides, it’s just the right thing to do!

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit “ Topic of the Month for July 2013. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it!

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