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Healthy Workplace

posted by Tamar Schreibman
filed under general postings
Sick of work? Maybe it's your office that needs a check-up. Diane McFerrin Peters, a management consultant and co-author of Care to Compete? (a book about how companies can manage employees while keeping both people and profits in mind) says that many companies aren't operating at maximum brainpower because they don't focus enough on the health of employees. "There are a number of ways your boss could make your office a healthier place," says McFerrin Peters, who lectures to such companies as AT&T, McDonald's, Merrill Lynch, and FedEx. "The key is to convince your boss that doing these things is not just a "favor" to you but a good financial move for the entire company."

"Know the personality of your company and its financial situation, and present two or three suggestions that seem like they'd get a good response," suggests McFerrin Peters. Think about the bottom line, she adds. How will these changes boost employee productivity and reduce absenteeism? Tell your boss how the company will benefit, and maybe even offer to set things up. "Or print out a copy of this article," offers McFerrin Peters. These may not all apply to your particular workplace, but the list will certainly get the ball rolling.


Offer a day away. Provide at least three personal days per year in addition to standard vacation and sick time. "That way, employees don't have to fake being sick or use a vacation day to take Grandma to the dentist, move, or simply regroup," says McFerrin Peters.

Provide a good prescription plan. Employees often blow off getting prescriptions filled or avoid taking medication because it is so expensive. "So many medicines today are preventive. Even if they're not absolutely mandatory in the short-term, they will make you healthier in the long run," says McFerrin Peters. "For example, if a physician prescribes drugs to lower your cholesterol, you should take them. But they can be expensive—and if your plan doesn't cover them, you might rationalize that they're not absolutely necessary."

Set up a "brown-bag seminar series." Offer hour-long lunchtime seminars on nutrition, healthy cooking, or fitness. "These are all things that aren't related to work but can help employees become happier and healthier," says McFerrin Peters.

Declare a "renewal day." Have a day once a year where nobody is allowed to work on anything or take appointments. "Every once in a while it's helpful to spend a day thinking about how you're going to approach tasks with a new attitude," says McFerrin Peters. "But who has time to do that on a regular day?"


Keep germs at bay. In the coffee area, have disposable cups and spoons and individual creamers and sugar. "Otherwise people dip their spoons in after sipping and then others reuse them, spreading germs," says McFerrin Peters.

Take fruitful breaks. Provide free fruit in break rooms and get rid of the vending machines. "The fruit doesn't have to be free," adds McFerrin Peters. "The company can decide to make money on the fruit instead. The point is that you're getting employees to eat nutritional snacks."

Give some food for thought. Order healthy food for meetings. "Yogurt and fruit are much better brain foods than donuts and Danishes."

Make wise choices. Provide an on-site cafeteria with a low-fat, low-sodium foods section. Otherwise employees tend to grab the nearest available junk for the sake of convenience and speed. "It's better yet if the cafeteria food is offered at lower cost," adds McFerrin Peters. "If a cafeteria is not feasible, place orders at lunch or even for take-home dinners and have the food brought in from a nearby restaurant or catering service."


Be flexible. Offer employees flex hours to accommodate midday exercise. "A lot of people's family obligations make it impossible to fit exercise in early in the morning or after work. If they can incorporate exercise into their day and stay later or come earlier, employees will be a lot healthier, mentally and physically," says McFerrin Peters.

Provide incentives. To encourage exercise, offer discounts on health care for those who exercise regularly.

Add bike benefits. "Have a bicycle rack area inside the building," says McFerrin Peters. That way, employees will be more likely to ride to work. "And also offer bike safety tips," she suggests, "to help prevent injuries."

Offer free health screenings. Screen employees for blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Provide flu shots, too.

Be a gym-dandy. Large companies can have an on-site health club, suggests McFerrin Peters. Smaller companies can offer flex dollars for gym memberships or provide discounts at a local gym.


Have an ergonomic edge. When you think about how much time you spend at your desk, you realize how important this is. Create an ergonomics lab, where employees can try a whole lineup of desks, chairs, and keyboards, and figure out which feels most comfortable for them so they can order it. "If your company can't have a whole lab," says McFerrin Peters, "maybe you could keep at least a selection in the basement, an extra room, or a closet.

Don't be a heat miser. Sick of the extreme temperatures in your office? Companies almost always overdo it—overheat in the winter, overcool in the summer—which is a waste of money, especially since everyone's miserable. Solution? "If your company could afford different units, or at least vents that close, more people would be able to focus on the work at hand," says McFerrin Peters. "You can also provide portable fans and space heaters. Another idea is to post a note or a suggestion box by the thermostat, asking employees to rate their comfort level, then present overwhelming majority opinion to the office manager."

Hire shuttle buses. Provide shuttles to the parking area, for safety.
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