Create a healthy workplace: Part two

Jan 02, 2017

Over the years, we have developed work styles that are not good for our physical, mental, or emotional health, but that can be changed.

Taking these tips to heart can really change the health of the workplace and the employees in it. Studies show that unhealthy work habits, like staring at computer screens and rushing through fast-food lunches are taking their toll in the form of increased absenteeism, lost productivity, and higher insurance costs – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies such as Google, Apple, Aetna, and Johnson & Johnson have used innovative techniques to incorporate healthy habits and practices into the workday and into their culture – with impressive ROI.

So how can we improve the health of our work place? Here’s a comprehensive list:

  1. Stay home when you are sick. When people come into the workplace sick, they are very likely spreading their ailments to colleagues, which reduces organizational productivity. As tempting as it is for you to “power through” and minimize sick days, the overall health risk is not worth it. Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson placed a tracer virus on commonly touched objects such as a doorknob or tabletop in workplaces. At multiple time intervals, the researchers sampled a range of surfaces including light switches, countertops, sink tap handles, and push buttons. They found that between 40 and 60 percent of the surfaces were contaminated within two to four hours. This may be a reason to adopt a “work from home” policy, if you are looking for one. Beyond that, everyone should frequently wash their hands.
  2. Install “circadian” lighting. Our internal circadian rhythm or biological clock regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. This rhythm is controlled by a part of the brain at the back of the eye, which is triggered by changes in natural daylight. Unfortunately for most of us, we spend 90 percent of our day indoors, which plays havoc with our sleep cycle. To combat this, try the following:
    • Consider installing a circadian lighting system designed to trigger wakefulness.
    • If you’re on a budget, try screwing a “daylight” LED bulb into your office task light. You will be shocked by how much better you feel after just a few minutes of use, and you will likely sleep better at night!
  3. Bring your pet to work. Bring in puppies or kittens to work for a few hours. Sam Whiteside, the chief wellness officer at The Motley Fool will bring in puppies when she knows a team is working hard on a deadline, to lighten things up.
    • Create a “bring your pet to work day.”
    • Allow pets to come to picnics or events.
    • Get a mascot. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for every employee to bring in their dog or cat, but having just one pet might be just the ticket. If you’ve ever been to the Hotel Algonquin in New York (or read The Algonquin Cat), you know this can be a competitive advantage.
  4. Lead by example. One of the most influential tools to encourage healthy behavior in your organization is you. Consider doing the following:
    • Adopt healthy changes into your own life that will give you the knowledge you need as a leader to convince others to change.
    • Eat better and bring in good, healthy foods to share with your team when appropriate.
    • Integrate movement into your day by organizing a stand-up meeting, walking while you take a conference call, or trying out an “exercise desk.”
    • Pay attention to your sleep cycle and stop sending your team texts at 10 p.m.

Bonus points for managers and leaders! So you’ve tried everything mentioned before, but looking for something more? Here are a few extra healthy strategies to mull over:

  1. If you are looking to relocate the office, consider having it by a park or public transportation. The proximity of your home or office to parks and other recreational facilities is consistently associated with higher levels of physical activity and healthier weight status. The same goes for proximity to public transit – there is a link between access to public transportation and physical activity, since transit use typically involves walking to a bus or subway stop.
  2. Give your workplace a healthy stamp of approval. Two tools that have received a great deal of buzz lately are the WELL Building Standard by Delos, and the FITWEL Standard developed by the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. General Services Administration, and administered by the Center for Active Design.
  3. Get rid of email. I spoke with a leader that adopted Slack and Asana for internal communications. He claims to have recaptured at least five hours a week and saved “a day” of his team’s time a week due to more efficient communication and streamlined meetings. He still uses email for external communication, but inter-office email was dramatically reduced.

Leigh Stringer is senior workplace expert for EYP Architecture & Engineering. Learn more at

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