With the rise in urbanization, health seems to be taking a back seat for most professionals. Pick the set of statistics you like best - rising obesity levels, rampant chronic diseases, deteriorating mental health - they all tell the same story.
However, awareness is increasing. The organic food industry is exploding, spurred on by people who are concerned they need to retake control of their nutrition. Gym memberships are on the rise and there is a growing public awareness about the corrosive effects of sugar and artificial additives.
But many of the impediments to living a healthy lifestyle that has been responsible for our declining health remain largely unchanged. One of the most damaging influencers of public health is the office. The average employee works more than 2,000 hours in a year, which for an office worker means 2,000 hours in an environment that almost seems intentionally designed to foster unhealthy living.
To better understand both how bad offices are, and why 2016 might be the year they get a little better, I spoke with wellness expert Alex Goldberg, CEO of Provata Health, a health and wellness company based in Portland, Oregon. According to Goldberg, these are the five reasons corporate wellness just might improve this year.
It is anyone’s guess why awareness about the damaging effects of offices are just now entering the public consciousness. Perhaps the increase in people working from home has allowed for a national compare and contrast conversation to take place. But whatever the reason, we now understand that offices encourage weight gain, spread illnesses, and damage mental health.
“Office environments have a huge impact on your productivity,” says Goldberg. “They can be a challenging place to control your health. That is why a program designed to cultivate wellness is an essential tool in corporate America.”
Provata’s wellness program was the subject of a peer-reviewed study conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University that showed remarkable results. The study concluded that the Provata wellness program was as effective at lowering high blood pressure as a first line prescription drug.
Any given office has members from the baby boomer generation right down to today’s always entertaining millennials. This diversity means that wellness programs need to be comprehensive to address everyone’s health issues, so as not to lose any particular demographic.
“Wellness programs that only focus on challenges, such as walking 10,000 steps a day, are not going to change long term behavior and are unlikely to engage everyone in the office,” says Goldberg. “It is time that these programs measure success by outcomes, which they have ignored in favor of engagement. Yes, you can get people to engage in challenges to win a gift card, but when the rewards system goes away, you find that healthy habits tend to go away with it. Programs need to start connecting knowledge to action.”
This could be why Provata is one of the only health and wellness programs to have its methods clinically studied for outcomes. Their emphasis on behavioral changes and office-wide participation has been proven to substantially reduce stress and depression, as well as a litany of chronic diseases such as obesity and hypertension.
An unhealthy workforce is also an expensive workforce, which is why many executives are looking to invest in their employees’ well being.
“Telling employees what's wrong with them and giving them some websites to visit and phone numbers for more information just doesn't cut it,” says Goldberg. “Working with our colleagues to achieve personal health goals gives us a foundation of support and mutual accountability to create long-term behavior changes.”
According to a peer-reviewed analysis of Provata’s team-based wellness paradigm, Goldberg says, “Every dollar spent on the program saved ten dollars that would otherwise be spent on worker compensation claims. Given the billions of dollars that are spent on those claims every year, the savings could be truly incredible.
We can only hope that those savings are enticing enough corporations to make this the year of corporate wellness.”
Health has become an important issue for corporations and professionals because as human beings, we no longer do as many physical activities as our previous generations. Corporations are beginning to realize that employees who are physically and mentally fit tend to be more productive. This might truly be the year for corporate wellness.