I spend a lot of time talking about things to change, what to eat, exercise programs to stick with, but something I have rarely spoken about is the workplace.  Your workplace.

We are often defined by our jobs.  We obviously spend a great deal of our lives at the workplace, so its impact on our health cannot be understated.  Unless you work at home, which can present and entirely different set of challenges.

The culture of any given workplace can either undermine or enhance the plans you make to get or stay healthy.

On the upside, there is a trend among many forward-thinking companies to provide healthy options in the cafeteria and even vending machines.  It is inevitable this trend will continue.  As more and more companies battle with insurance costs and the extra burden an unhealthy work force bring, a trend towards workplace health will become more obvious. (By the way, if you don’t see positive trends in your workplace, there’s your call to action!  Be the cause for change!)

Here are some examples of office practices and ‘office culture’ which need to and should go by the wayside:

  • Allowing employees to keep large bowls of sweets on the desktop. Some people will raise an eyebrow at this.  After all, can you really dictate what your employees eat?  Heck yes!  We have all see it; the receptionist with the large glass bowl of lollipops or Hersey’s Kisses on her desk.  This is viewed as a friendly gesture.  Offering a visitor a treat can be viewed by some as good manners.  Of course, the candy is really for the receptionist to quell her addiction and for her fellow employees who know exactly where to go for a sugar fix.

As long as the employer is paying health care premiums and scrambling to cover for sickly workers, I believe they can certainly take a stand on the distribution of toxins in the workplace. Sugar is, of course, an addictive toxin.

Solution: Plug in a bowl of fruit or packages of mixed nuts instead of the candy.

  •  Donuts in the break room. The same theory needs to apply here as in the above example. Many offices have workers take turns bringing in Dunkin Donuts.  They grab a big vat of coffee, which is fine, but also lay out trays of donuts.  This pattern makes it extremely difficult for those trying to diet to stick with it and only serves to satisfy the sugar addicted in the office.  In addition,  the sugar roller coaster started by the donuts crush energy levels and hence productivity.

Solution: the employer can undercut the Dunkin’s run by providing healthy breakfast and snack alternatives.  The savings in productivity and the decrease in absenteeism would quickly offset the cost of the food.

  • Creating a culture where breaks are discouraged. We have all experienced the pressure to complete assignments.  This is business and comes with the territory.  However, more studies are coming out showing that frequent breaks and significantly increase  Therefore, a workplace where breaks are discouraged in favor of increased results may actually have it all wrong and in fact, may be hurting the very productivity it is trying to push.

 I have seen the following recommendations:  Every hour take a 10 minute break to walk around and get the blood flowing.  One productivity guru recommends setting a reminder even more frequently – every 30 minutes – to get up and move.  Another new study says that if you are engaged in creative activities, a brisk walk can increase the flow of ideas and solutions.  NOTE:  the same effect is not seen in activities involving math or calculations.   Go figure…

  •  Allowing for frequent cigarette breaks. The cigarette break is a part of American culture…it should not be.  I am not sure if this is even legal or not, (Perhaps some of our readers involved in human resources can tell me) but if I owned a company with many employees, the first question I would ask in the interview process would be, “Do you smoke?”  If the answer is yes, I would thank them for their time and move on to the next candidate.  I do not think any employer should be forced to hire someone who uses cigarettes any more than they should be forced to hire a heroin or cocaine user.  The cost of cigarette smoking on American business is just too gigantic.  To contribute to it makes no sense.

The impact of smoking on health care premiums and overall productivity is equally enormous.  Here is a real life example.  When I worked for a company in Atlanta, a good number of employees in our tech support department smoked cigarettes.  About once every 45 minutes, a group of them would get up and leave the building to go have a smoke.   Right away, a large percentage of our department was off-duty!  Yes, highly unproductive.  (Yes, I see the irony of this pattern after making the statement above about the importance of frequent breaks, however, indulging in a destructive habit is NOT the same as taking a break to improve productivity.)

Anyway, I noticed another non-smoking employee would immediately join the smoking group every time they went outside.  I asked him why he was joining them when he was a non-smoker.  He replied, “Why should these guys get 15 minutes of paid breaks every hour simply because they are addicted to smoking while I sit there working?  Am I getting paid more?  Heck no.”  I could not argue with his logic.

Solution:  Every employee who smokes should pay a higher insurance premium, be required to enroll in a smoking cessation program.  In addition, the designated smoking area, if one must be provided, should be so far away as to make frequent trips unreasonable.

To be continued…