Today, many employers are tasked with preserving and promoting the health and happiness of their employees. As a result, much attention is paid to perks beyond healthcare and 401(k) benefits. Wellness leaders are responding, offering a wide variety of lifestyle improvement and chronic disease management programs while exploring everything from flexible work arrangements to pet insurance.
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In truth, however, our employee wellness programs don't have to be so complicated.
A good wellness program improves the health and happiness of individuals. While many programs influence behaviors outside of the office, the fastest way to have an impact is to create an office space that promotes wellness during the workday.
The office environment impacts the health and wellbeing of employees in more ways than one, whether by poor air quality, limited access to nutritious food, or chair-biased work routines. To promote healthier workforces, organizations of every size and structure should be doing one thing: embracing a culture of movement.
A staggering number of corporate workers spend the majority of the day – approximately 12.3 hours – sitting. This daily routine is bad for individuals, and it's bad for business.
Studies show that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and death. People who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent higher risk of death in the next three years than people who sit for less than four hours. Sitting can also harm our mental health, interfering with our focus, upping our stress levels, and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression.
When offices do encourage movement, the realities of the workday rarely reflect said encouragement. Some employees will inevitably put their health on the back burner in order to meet deadlines and manage responsibilities. Plus, the habit of sitting is a deeply ingrained one. Absent the conscious choice to introduce and encourage more movement to the workplace, employees will default to the behaviors the office has always reinforced.
Movement Benefits Everyone
By their very design, disease management and weight loss programs often see limited engagement. Movement, however, is a practical, age-agnostic approach to wellness. The simple act of standing is easy and beneficial, regardless of where employees are on the age or health spectrum.
Ergotron's recent "Workplace Movement Assessment" survey found that employees of all ages value the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing during the day. Furthermore, 68 percent of workers aged 20 to 30 years old report that sit-stand workstations improve collaboration, while 86 percent of workers aged 50 to 60 years old report that their active workstations help them manage and even reverse health issues. According to Ergotron's JustStand Index, more than 60 percent of employees report disliking or even hating sitting all day, yet nearly 70 percent do so.
A free gym membership can't solve the sitting problem. Studies show that getting in one hour of daily physical exercise cannot compensate for the negative health effects of prolonged sitting. Interventions that encourage regular movement allow employees to engage in healthier behavior without interrupting productivity, a win-win for employees and employers.
At the end of the day, the most promising scenario for employee wellness may be a combination of unique perks with foundational environmental changes. Nurturing culture and improving employee satisfaction starts with turning tired, sedentary office spaces into active environments where employees can thrive.
Betsey Banker is wellness manager at Ergotron.