The daily commute to the office: Is it really worth price to health?

In an information intensive economy, those who create, process, analyze and add value to information can do so from anywhere thanks to the proliferation of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) over the past two decades.  Yet paradoxically, many Americans still engage in a daily commute to the office as if it were the 1950s of Dagwood Bumstead or the 1980s that inspired the more modern day office place comic strip, Dilbert.  In those days, commuting to the office was necessary because that’s where the office equipment was — telephones, typewriters (and later, dedicated word processors), photocopiers and fax machines.  Not anymore.  Today, nearly any setting can function as an office where a knowledge worker can concentrate and be productive.

Nevertheless, on average Americans spend nearly an hour a day getting to and from an office that ICT has effectively rendered obsolete.  That adds up to a lot of wasted and often stress filled time piled on top of an increasingly sedentary culture that battles the rising health care costs of lifestyle-induced chronic conditions linked to a lack of exercise, poor diet, and inadequate sleep. For the time crunched trying to balance family obligations with work, avoiding these adverse health impacts is even more challenging.  Just look around any traditional office setting and chances are you’ll see plenty of stressed out, sleep deprived, and overweight people who are more likely use medical services and in turn increase their employers’ health care utilization costs.

What’s needed is a new model for traditional office-based work that can free up time for exercise, healthier home cooked meals and sleep that would otherwise be wasted on daily commuting.  Fortunately, such a model better suited to today’s highly connected, information everywhere economy exists: ROWE or a Results Only Work Environment.  A ROWE values getting the work done over daily office attendance.  Early indications are that workplaces that adopt ROWE can achieve better health status at a time when workplace wellness is getting increased attention to slow the nation’s unsustainable rise in health care costs. A University of Minnesota study issued in December 2011 found workers in a ROWE realized increased health-related behaviors of more sleep and exercise — behaviors that can go a long way toward maintaining health and reducing medical utilization.  ROWE is poised to become the successor to traditional “workplace wellness” programs that have been slow to demonstrate tangible progress in reducing employer health care costs.

 


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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Frederick Pilot

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1 Comment

  1. wombatgroup

    So the solution is to take people out of an environment where they have to get out of the house and move around at least a little, and put them in an environment where they never have to get out of bed?

    I’ve done the work-at-home thing for a couple years now. Yes, I can get more sleep, and I don’t pay for as much gas as before. However, there are downsides you never hear about:

    – Work-at-home is profoundly alienating. You never see anyone you work with. There’s nothing to connect you to your company, no reminders that you still work for a real company except the daily flood of email. Forget office romances (where over 40% of workers meet their romantic partners); you’ll never see that hot guy in Accounting or hot gal in Sales, another reason you won’t work out as much as you would if you had to work outside the house.

    – You come to crave contact with real, breathing people. No, Facebooking and tweeting is not real social interaction. At an office you have to see and speak to actual people and be seen by them; if that’s not an incentive to work out and wear some decent clothes, I don’t know what is. I found myself inventing reasons to get out of the house (post office/grocery store/going to lunch) just so I could see that humans still walked the Earth.

    Go to Starbucks to get a people fix? Sure. It’s healthy to go get a $4 sugar-and-cream-laden quasi-coffee drink to work on a non-ergonomic work surface in bad light surrounded by noise. BTW, I’m on the other end of the phone trying to hear you over the cappucino machine, crying children and the album-of-the-week. One healthful outcome: I wasn’t able to choke you to death for inflicting that on me.

    – That ICT doesn’t work so well. The first 5-10 minutes of nearly every meeting are blown with trying to get the conference bridge to not broadcast the barking dog, or getting the desktop to share, or dealing with people who can’t get into the online teleconference. The rest are plagued with bad sound (VoIP sucks for sound quality in general; push graphics on top of it and it’s a joke), people too far from the speaker phone, trying to identify who’s speaking, and so on.

    – At an office, you probably have one job. At home, you’ll have to be the whole company because there’s no one else around to do anything for you. You have to become your own IT department, your own HR department, admin assistant, shipping clerk…

    – What makes you think home-cooked meals are any healthier than what you eat at work? When I worked in an office, most people I knew brought lunch from home. The snack food at home is more abundant and varied than what’s in the vending machines, but no better for you. And when you’re still working at home at 8PM, you’re going to get pizza or Chinese delivery, just like when you were at an office.

    – There’s no separation between work and home. When you commute, you leave the job when you leave the building. When the office is your home, you live at the office. You get work phone calls after hours (especially if you work for a multinational), you check your work email on weekends…it never stops. Work-at-home is a pretext for corporations to get you working 24/7 for 40 hours of pay a week. Some of us are old enough to remember the concept of “working hours” and “weekend”; sadly, not so much anymore.

    I suspect that not too long from now, a study will find that people who work at home for a company (rather than for themselves) are just as stressed, just as unhappy, far more alienated, and more prone to unhealthy behaviors (from Chunky Monkey to drug abuse) as their office-bound peers. We are by-and-large social creatures; we’ve worked in groups since we gave up the hunter-gatherer gig.

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