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Four Steps to Workplace Wellness

We have seen study after study confirm the belief that healthy employees are happy employees. They perform better at work and they have deeper connections with the people around them. We all know healthy employees outperform unhealthy employees. The next concern is how we encourage all of our employees to maintain healthy lifestyles.

More and more companies are turning to workplace wellness programs to encourage their employees to maintain healthier lifestyles. However, most programs only put an emphasis on nutrition and fitness. While that’s a starting place, it is by no means the solution to the problem.

True wellness programs have four core components. They put an emphasis on getting enough sleep, eating the right types of food, exercising a little bit each day and understanding when to take a break.

Sleep

Sleep gives you the energy to take on the day. It provides the necessary repairs your body needs to keep performing your best, so that whatever the day throws at you, both your body and mind are capable of the task.

Only 17 percent of workers, however, actually meet the doctor-recommended amount of sleep. Americans work multiple jobs, take their work home and extend their working hours past the normal eight to five workday, resulting in 52 percent of U.S. workers getting only five to seven hours of sleep each night. In many cases, work itself keeps people tossing and turning at night.

As hard as sleep deprivation is on workers, it can be even more detrimental to your business’s bottom line. Sleep loss costs U.S. employers tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity. A sleep deprived workforce can lead to a loss in employee morale, productivity and overall work quality. Though you have no control over what time your employee’s go to bed, there are steps you can take to combat this trend.

An employee’s lack of sleep primarily stems from a lack of opportunity. Implementing sleep supporting initiatives, such as alternative work schedules or telecommuting, makes it easier on your employees to get the sleep they need to perform. It gives them a chance to break away from routine and recharge.

Most importantly, discouraging employees from bringing work home with them after-hours helps define a healthy work-life balance. The best way to do this is leading by example. Show your employees that you take time for yourself, so they won’t feel guilty doing the same.

Nutrition

You are what you eat. What we put in our bodies defines our emotions, sleep cycles and, most importantly, productivity. When food digests, it enters your bloodstream and powers your brain. It then does one of two things: increases or decreases focus. It all depends on glucose, the fuel that provides energy for our body.

Let’s say you had to choose between eating a donut or an apple. Both give you the same amount of energy. The difference is how long the energy actually lasts. Choosing to eat a donut causes the energy to kick in faster, but for a shorter period of time, whereas eating the apple causes the energy to kick in slowly over a longer period. This is why in order to stay awake, alert and productive, we need to eat food that provides energy for the longest time possible.

When we eat foods that are high in carbohydrates , fat or sugar, we make it harder for our bodies to perform. A high amount of carbohydrates leads to an overabundance of insulin, which bombards the brain with serotonin. It’s that the sleepy feeling you experience after your lunch break. These foods also decrease blood sugar levels, which results in diminished willpower and focus.

Unhealthy food is cheap and easy to find, which makes it difficult to justify healthy alternatives. While you may not have direct control over what your employees eat, this shouldn’t stop you from promoting healthy eating in your workplace. Simple steps, such as providing vending machines filled with healthy snacks or creating weight loss incentives have major impacts on overall employee health. This is especially important if your workers are seated most of the day.

If your employees see that you are practicing healthy eating, they will be more apt to do the same. Nutritional awareness and healthy eating habits are the key to keeping a healthy and productive workforce.

Exercise

Healthy employees are happy employees. One of the biggest contributors to our overall health and wellness is the amount of exercise we get each day. Our country is facing a growing obesity problem, in part due to our sedentary workday. As manual labor becomes automated, and more people switch to desk jobs, it is increasingly difficult for many to get the exercise they need to stay healthy.

Initiatives addressing obesity in the workplace are an investment, but the benefits go well beyond keeping your employees healthy. An active workforce has a strong impact on workplace productivity and overall employee happiness. Exercise improves your employee’s cognitive abilities, memory retention and decreases anxiety.

As a leader, it is up to you to put wellness at the forefront. Start by encouraging your employees to exercise every day. Offer prizes for meeting walking goals or start every day with a company stretch. It only takes each employee seven minutes for you to see results.

If you really want to go the extra mile, create a fitness center in the office or offer memberships to a local gym. Even increasing health care benefits, allowing your employees access to dietitians or medical weight management specialists helps them keep their health in check. Your employees invest much of their lives into your business, show them you care about their personal well-being by helping them meet their goals.

Mindfulness

Beyond keeping our bodies in shape, we must also exercise our minds. Both from an employee and managerial standpoint, mental health is just as important as physical health to creating a stronger workforce.

Mindfulness is a meditative practice that promotes being physically and mentally present and aware of your surroundings. It’s as simple as that. The beauty of mindfulness lies in the fact that anyone can do it. You don’t have to change anything about yourself, you just have to be present.

It may seem elementary, but rational thinking, productivity and strong relationships are all characteristics of a mindful person. Studies show that 15-minutes of mindful meditation have a strong influence on rationalizing business decisions. Take a small segment of each day to take a breath. Live in the moment. It helps us relate to others and leads to stronger relationships. The more your employees feel valued and respected, the more satisfied they will be with their own work.

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