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Think Outside the Cubicle
If your worklife feels like a bad episode of The Office, part of the problem may be the
By Claire Sykes
You sit all day at your desk, squinting at the computer screen until you’re seeing double. Your posture suffers, shoulders slumping under the weight of endless stress. Your demanding schedule only allows enough time for a quick junk-food lunch—along with a caffeinated cola to compensate for the energy crash that followed your hasty coffee-and-muffin breakfast. Is it any wonder that you’ve packed on pounds? The only exercise you seem to get during the workday is when you walk over to the fax machine. You go home feeling drained and frustrated—career is important, but not if the rat race costs you your health. White collar or blue collar, whatever your working life, you know you could live it more healthfully—if only your employer would let you.
The Puritan work ethic may still dominate the labor landscape in the US, but forward-thinking companies are stopping the spinning rat-wheel in the cage and letting employees loose in a work environment that’s fit, fun and more fruitful than ever. From on-site gyms and wholesome cafeteria choices to nap rooms and meditation breaks, workplace health and wellness programs are focusing on employees’ welfare and redefining the nine-to-five lifestyle—all while boosting the company’s bottom line.
“We spend most of our waking hours at work,” says Steven Aldana, PhD, professor of Lifestyle Medicine at Brigham Young University. “So, more than any other area of life, worksites influence our health”—both negatively (that vending-machine lunch) and positively (the company softball team).
“But in general, people don’t take care of themselves and their unhealthy habits place a financial burden on their employers,” by way of increased costs of health insurance, absenteeism and turnover. “Businesses can no longer afford not to provide healthful workplaces for their employees.”
“Healthy people cost the health system and employers less,” says Anna Silberman, Vice President of Preventive Health Services at Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “They also have a higher quality of life and are more satisfied employees, living longer, healthier lives.”
Emerging research suggests that, in addition to reducing sick days, healthy workplace practices also boost productivity. A 2005 study presented at the 52nd American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting revealed that quality of work, mental performance and time management were all significantly improved on days when workers took breaks for on-site exercise programs like aerobics, yoga and stretching. Additionally, workers reported being easier on themselves and more forgiving of t...