One of the biggest health hazards is ignoring the mind-body connection. Stress and anxiety can exact a punishing toll on one’s health, leading to serious ailments. In the workplace, lowered employee morale and absenteeism can result. Although many small business owners are aware that their employees’ health is critical to productivity, few are doing anything about it.
According to a recent report commissioned by the National Small Business Association and Humana Inc., a heath insurance provider, 93 percent of employers say that employee health is important to the bottom line; however, only 22 percent of small firms offer wellness programs. The reason cited is a lack of confidence in their ability to implement such initiatives for employees.
It’s a dichotomy that has unsettling consequences. Consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unplanned absences among workers are costing American businesses an average of 2.8-million workdays each year, translating into a loss of $74 billion. In this vein, small business owners have a lot to gain by instituting best practices that can improve the health and wellness of employees, while increasing overall productivity and reducing health care costs. But how can every entrepreneur—even those who lack the financial resources to execute ongoing programs—encourage their staff to adopt a healthier lifestyle?
Just like a guitar or a piano, your body is an instrument that needs to be maintained and fine-tuned on a regular basis. Outside of exercise, one of the best ways to achieve this is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, which includes daily intakes of protein, fruits and vegetables and avoidance of processed and deep fried foods.
Rosalie Moscoe, a Toronto-based nutritional consultant and stress relief expert who has worked with numerous small businesses, suggests having a “healthy eating” day. “Each employee can bring in a healthy snack in the form of nuts, fruit, or homemade muffins with low sugar and whole grain flour,” she advises. “Or they can buy something from a health food store. Keep in mind that sugar lowers immune function, so it’s best to avoid all sugars when you are sick.”
But you don’t need to wait for specific themed days. Stock up your work kitchen with all sorts of healthy food, ranging from yogurts to protein bars. Also, include blenders for employees to make smoothies and similar drinks using fresh fruit. Joel Gross, founder and CEO of Coalition Technologies, a Los Angeles and Seattle-based web design and marketing firm, adheres to this practice as routine.
“My employees are valuable assets and keeping them healthy and productive is a high priority,” he says. In addition to providing employees with an abundance of high-protein, healthy snacks, Gross also likes to keep multivitamin packs, Vitamin-C chews, zinc tablets and other nutritional supplements available and in the company kitchen.
Promote exercise and non-sedentary activities
Having a healthy and fit body is integral to maintaining good wellness habits and keeping stress at bay. Gross notes that small business owners can practice what they preach by offering free memberships to a local gym as a employee benefit or by encouraging their staff to partake in non-sedentary activities throughout the day, like an invigorating walk around a nearby park. (Gross does both.) Similarly, many health insurance plans now offer discounts to members who enroll in gym memberships
“I want to encourage [my employees] to get out, exercise and work off the stress that can build up working in an office,” Gross explains. Not all employees follow his advice, but, he notes, “I am constantly looking to enroll a greater number” to take advantage of the gym membership.
Punit Dhillon, CEO of OncoSec Medical, a two-year old San Diego-based biotech company that develops treatments for advanced-stage skin cancer, goes one step further: He keeps several “communal” bikes in his office to encourage his staff of 10 to use them during lunch. He also encourages them to take midday walks or runs, even going outside to play a game of frisbee.
Dhillon feels these are necessary supplements to what his company does. “Because of the program we’re working on, we’re trying to complement that with a positive environment, which comes down to not only building awareness of having a healthier lifestyle, but employing practices associated with it, like exercise and physical activity,” he explains.
Improve employee work/life balance
Very often absenteeism may be attributable to an employee having to handle responsibilities at home, which a stringent work schedule might not allow. Give your staff the option to work from home during those days when they feel their presence is urgently needed or create a schedule that’s more flexible.
Initiate wellness seminars
Invite an expert from a local spa or wellness center to come to your workplace to share health-related tips. This can run the gamut from relieving stress and getting better sleep to boosting nutrition and improving time management. “These are all great topics to help boost immunity and morale,” says Moscoe, who is the author of Frazzled Hurried Woman! Your Stress Relief Guide to Thriving…Not Merely Surviving.
Defuse an intense work environment with laughter
This doesn’t mean you should use important meetings as a pretext to do stand-up, but if you can incorporate some levity into the work proceedings, then do it.
Lani Anderson, a Los Angeles-based holistic practitioner who has been working with small businesses for 10 years, cites a client of hers that always includes a humorous anecdote in their customer newsletters. “He and his staff share funny jokes and stories for inclusion,” she says. “Humor brings great health benefits and this team effort brings staff together, like a family, which is the way many in small businesses feel and it's healthy.”
Many small business employees work in close quarters, meaning infections like colds and the flu can often spread quickly. So, it’s important to keep high traffic areas in your workplace—especially shared surfaces like doorknobs, telephones, and other commonly-used items, as clean as possible as a preventive measure. Of course, a good way for this to happen is through the full participation of employees. But an owner should also take an assertive role here.
“Send expert health tips to your employees electronically and post reminders on message boards,” adds Moscoe. “ You won’t want to sound like their mothers, so try and keep it light and informative. Let your staff know that they should stay home when they are sick.”
Just because you have a small business doesn’t mean you can’t successfully inaugurate and implement a health and wellness program for staff on a budget. Whether it’s loading the kitchen with nutritious snacks or encouraging employees to take a work break with a walk around the block, these measures can be critical to boosting employee morale and immunity. Understanding the mind/body connection is critical to productivity and success.