The Google Drool. This is the reaction we may have upon learning about the employee perks at companies like Google, Facebook, and other big startup or tech companies. We may find spit running down our chins when hearing about such things as barista-staffed coffee bars, top-level chef-prepared fare at various campus restaurants, snack bars arranged to foster healthy choices–not to mention arcade games, bowling, and ping-pong rooms, mid-day yoga and fitness classes, shower rooms with provided towels, lava lamp decor, and even the ability to bring one’s dog to work!
Tucked behind the big and small amenities that these large and hip companies are able to provide is a strong employer commitment to employee well- being. Clearly, these business-savvy entrepreneurs have recognized the value of recruiting and having happy and healthy workers–and while floating in the tech bubble–have taken time to figure out what promotes such benefit.
For those of us living outside the Google Universe, we may consider ourselves lucky just to have a coffee maker, a vending machine, and maybe a water dispenser; and are giddy when someone brings in a box of donuts to start the day. That’s OK we say. We’ll trudge into work daily loaded down with our necessary sustenance carried in various totes, or use our precious lunch breaks–which we are not paid for–to frantically run out for a sandwich or slice of pizza. We’ll rush to the gym before or after work, if at all, and stuff that soggy or soaked towel back in our bag. We’ll come to work sick because we don’t have sufficient–if any–health care benefits or sick days.
While it may be unrealistic to presume that every business, workplace or employer could even provide a modicum of the level of benefits and types of environments like the Google-type giants, it can still be an important exercise to step back and consider what changes could be implemented in one’s specific setting to enhance the well-being of those who work there–dedicating a big chunk of both their lifetime and energy on another’s behalf.
With the serious state of health care in our nation, and the associated high costs of health insurance premiums burdening both the business sector and individuals, governmental and private entities are trying to find solutions to the problems associated with an increasingly unhealthy populace. While we sit and wait for that to happen, what are some ways employment sites can, on their own, support the health and well-being of the hard-working masses with some small homeopathic doses of supportive care?
If you are responsible for or can affect workplace environments, here are a few little ideas that may just spark the imagination of possibility. They are intended to be relatively easy and hopefully cost permitting. However, each is certainly not applicable or realistic for all settings, in which case, consider them a starting point for what may be for yours.
The Food Culture: The bane of our society. While we seem to understand that what and how we eat really matters, we continuously create apologies for ignoring this, and the workplace is no exception. Foods offered in workplace settings are classically “happy foods”–those which compromise health but which feed the mentality of rewarding everyone for the drudgery at hand. The assumption is that we need these sugary and junk food enticements. But, what if we thought about workplace food as replenishment–and maybe even increased productivity–rather than reward?
- Beyond the coffee machine, offer a station with a variety of healing teas, good quality water (perhaps an infused water dispenser), a bowl of seasonal fruit or a vegetable platter when possible.
- Institute Healthy Vending and Healthy Meetings practices. These can send a powerful message to employees, clients and business partners alike.
- Investigate being a drop-off site for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, where local produce boxes are delivered to participants on a weekly basis.
- Establish relationships with health food vendors and establishments. Hire them to cater any workplace events and see if they can offer an employee discount in return.
- Model healthy eating behaviors to inspire others.
The Physical Environment: Take a walk around the physical space and look and listen. Well-being can be depleted by a flickering fluorescent bulb, a slamming door, or a moldy carpet. And, it can be enhanced by simple attention.
- Check to ensure that where possible, the walls are nicely painted, there is nice artwork, and the flooring is comfortable and clean.
- Soften the internal environment with good lighting, some plants, and relaxing sounds. Consider diffusing essential oils. Create some room to provide employees with a quiet area, and make sure you can accommodate nursing moms with a private lactation area–this is the law in many states.
- Enhance any outdoor areas so employees can take a walk, do some stretching, take breaks or even do their work.
- Install a bike rack, a ping-pong table, provide a few pieces of fitness equipment and some yoga mats, and display signage encouraging stair climbing and other health-promoting activities.
- Make sure that No Smoking policies are strictly enforced and restricted areas are fiercely protected.
The Work Day: Here is where it can get fun to elevate the workday to something a little more special for everyone.
- Create a “quiet hour” encouraging work in silence to mitigate background noise and foster creative thinking.
- Create a “movement time” encouraging walking or stretching. Promote a “tag” system where a five-minute movement activity, such as a lap around the building is passed from one employee to the next. There can be “playtime” as well.
- Review human resources policies. Can any “rules” be re-visited to ensure they promote caring for all rather than preventing abuse by a few? Can flexible leave time replace specified allocations? Are there ways to promote stress reduction simply by reducing punitive leaning policies or by making up your own nice ones?
- Take advantage of the array of healing arts practitioners and health educators in your community. Create a monthly wellness schedule bringing in various specialists for some mini-sessions. These specialists might be glad to provide discounted pricing to your employees. Reward dedicated (and lousy) employees with a healing art or healthy food gift certificate.
- Offer in-house chair massages. Many local massage schools have students eager to practice their skills for free.
Essentially, once you begin to look at the workplace as an environment for health, the possibilities are many. Become your own Google when it comes to employee perks. Even a small investment might yield some large or unexpected returns. The bottom line: let your employees know that your business is committed to health promotion because you care about them.
I would love to hear your ideas. What workplace health perks have you provided or received? What do you wish for? Can you bring your dog to work? Please leave me a comment. Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day. Here’s to a kinder and gentler world.
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In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Chickpea Quinoa Cakes
Served at two local restaurants