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Why Promoting Healthier Workplace Habits Will Boost Your Business Modern offices still lack ergonomic designs, provide dim lighting, are conducive to stress, and are often without mental and physical fitness programs

By Sam Corcos

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As nearly anyone who has spent time working in an office environment can easily attest to, the modern workplace doesn't offer a lot of value to employees in terms of mental health and physical fitness. Modern offices still lack ergonomic designs, provide dim lighting, are conducive to stress, and are often without mental and physical fitness programs. In fact, a recent study by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics and SAP reveals that half of the millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left a job for mental health reasons.

For any business leader, this should be a major concern — not only for their employees' wellbeing but for their business as a whole. A recent WHO-led study found that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy up to US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, depression interferes with a person's ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time. Simply put, employers that don't create a strong culture of health and wellbeing are missing an opportunity to give back to the employees who make their company what it is and will pay for the consequences in the form of productivity and performance gaps from those employees who must work through these challenges.

There are a few different ways you can optimize your own office environment to ensure that you're doing everything in your power to keep your employees healthy and happy in the place where they spend 40+ hours of their week. Here are some tips for creating a healthier workplace culture that will benefit both your employees and your bottom line:

Create time and space for physical activities

A study that examined the relationship between working environment and weight control efforts among obese workers in Korea found that physical working conditions are closely related to employee health status and that sedentary jobs may lead to a higher incidence of obesity. The same study also discovered that job stress is associated with high body mass index (BMI), as stress generated in low-control, high-demand work environments often influences food choices and eating patterns.

Offering workplace physical programs such as morning yoga sessions with the team, "active pause" breaks throughout the day, and gym memberships can all encourage your employees to break out of that sedentary lifestyle and become more active, even at work. Exercise of any type, whether it's mild to moderate aerobic activity, high-intensity interval training, or resistance training, helps with glucose control for prediabetic or diabetic employees and improves metabolic fitness.

Some of the biggest companies in the world are implementing different ways to get their employees moving: Health insurance provider Aetna created a fitness and wellness center onsite with virtual trainers leading workout classes, and its yoga and meditation program showed improvements in heart rates and increased productivity. Google also offers its employees onsite training centers and over 200 exercise classes. Colliers International gives its workers wearable devices that measure and track their heart rates, levels of productivity, and stress levels, and offers physical activity recommendations accordingly. There are plenty of ways that companies of any size can make small changes to add physical fitness to their employees' everyday lives — business leaders just need to take the extra step to implement them.

Offer healthy snacks to boost moods and metabolic awareness

Diet is just as key to a productive, motivated employee as exercise. All too often, busy or stressed employees make poor dietary choices in the workplace, opting for convenient foods like microwaveable snacks or fast food. Of course, it's rare to find healthy ingredients in that realm, and if these highly processed foods are eaten on a daily basis, they can lead to obesity and even diabetes. And according to one study, people with obesity are 55% more likely to suffer from depression than non-obese individuals — and in turn, those with depression have a 58% greater risk of developing obesity than non-depressed individuals.

What you eat can make or break your workday, especially when it comes to your mood and energy levels. Recent studies have found at least six potential links between high blood sugar and depression. Keeping glucose levels in a stable and healthy range can also contribute to feeling focused and mentally sharp. This is likely in part due to the fact that the brain relies on glucose for energy, which means that dysregulation can lead to decreased energy levels and reduced alertness.

To help your employees mitigate these health risks and improve mental clarity and motivation, become part of the solution by offering them healthy snacks that can also keep blood sugar and glucose at steady levels. Avoid offering typical vending machine snacks with tons of added sugars like candy bars or processed pastries; instead, put out fresh, high-fiber snacks that are known to improve glycemic control. Casey Means, MD, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of metabolic-tracking company Levels, suggests offering glucose-stabilizing snacks such as nuts, seeds, low-glycemic fruits like berries, sliced veggies, hummus, olive tapenade, bean dips, nut butters, grain-free nut-based crackers, and healthy crunchy snacks like roasted seaweed and roasted chickpeas. "While every person's glucose response will differ, these types of snacks tend to generate less of a glucose spike, thereby helping employees maintain energy levels and mental clarity while also providing their brains and bodies with health-promoting nutrients," she says. By encouraging this type of metabolic awareness, your employees can learn to keep track of their glucose levels, understand how it affects their moods and productivity, and know what they need to eat to get energy levels back up.

Develop a company-wide integrated health and wellbeing strategy

While creating ways to exercise onsite and provide healthy food options are a great start to improving employee health, it's also key to create a comprehensive strategy across the company to address mental health in addition to physical health. One study found that approximately one-third of the mental health cost burden is related to productivity losses including unemployment, disability and lower work performance. Only an integrated company strategy can protect both the mental and physical wellbeing of your employees.

According to the World Health Organization, there are a few steps employers can take to implement such a strategy: The implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices; informing staff that support is available; involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance; programmes for the career development of employees; and recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.

The CDC also suggests promoting mental health and stress management educational programs to employees, supporting community programs that indirectly reduce those risks, and create a system that allows employees to easily find community resources that address mental health issues.

Creating a strong culture of health and wellness in your business has the potential to benefit both your employees and your bottom line. While your employees enjoy a healthier work environment and reduced stress levels, your business enjoys higher productivity levels and less money spent on expensive health costs. We're living in a fast-paced era with higher stress levels than ever, so taking these extra steps to show your employees you care about their health and wellbeing will go a long way — for the both of you.

Sam Corcos

Co-Founder of Levels

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