We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. The office environment has a great deal of influence over the shape and structure of our lives. While the doctor’s visit is where many health conversations start, it is rarely where they continue to live. Workplaces have the opportunity to keep this conversation going. As Catherine Baase, Global Director of Health Services for The Dow Chemical Company, states, “The workplace, through its established culture, can have greater long-term impact than the visit with your doctor, the reach of government and even the sphere of your family. It is the secret sauce to driving outcomes — and an essential factor in achieving population health.”
Influence also stems from an organization’s ability to create an ecosystem of health around an individual. While a doctor’s advice often fails to stick because it gets drowned out in our hectic lifestyle, workplaces can support an individual’s adherence to health everyday by surrounding an employee with a physical and social environment that makes health the simple and meaningful choice. At USAA, it’s hard to ignore the physical representation of health. The company has made it so convenient it’s become part of the fabric of the organization with amenities, such as bike stations, BMI testing rooms, indoor and outdoor walking paths, stairway signs estimating calories burned for use, energy rooms, healthy food and a massive gym. Culturally at USAA, health has been woven in, with departments competing to collect healthy points. The reward—a sense of group pride—is a compelling force to action and holds people accountable. When we bump up against these attitudes and resources day in and day out at the workplace, they influence our perspectives on health.
I respectfully disagree with the notion that workplaces are the magic bullet for encouraging health promoting behaviors to ward off preventable, lifestyle-related chronic conditions that cost organizations billions in health care costs and lost productivity. Yes, knowledge workers do spend the majority of their waking hours at work. But the daily — and needless — commute of 40 to 120 minutes to sit in an office for 8 hours is one of the worst things we can do for our collective health.
The more sensible — and less costly for both organizations and their members — approach is to leverage information and communications technology to shift away from the overarching centralized commuter office culture. Treat staff as adults and let them manage where and when they get their work done. That way, they’ll have more freedom and freed up time from ditching the daily commute to hit the (real, not office mini) gym, walk, run, swim, and cycle on their own schedules. If organizations want their members to adopt health promoting behaviors, they need to give them maximum freedom and support to make that choice. And they’ll likely benefit from reduced real estate and health care costs, lower turnover and higher staff attraction and retention.
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