HR Corner

Health Risks In The Office Space And How To Minimise Them

At the JSW corporate office in Mumbai, one finds a signboard near the lift that encourages employees to take the stairs instead of the lift. The DBS Bank office in Mumbai has cycling workstations inside the office, which lets employees stay physically active while working. Weber Shandwick’s office in Gurgaon allows ample sunlight inside the office that allows employees to work in natural light and avoid artificial light.

These are just a few ways in which organizations are making efforts to enhance employees’ well being and reduce health risks in the office. We all know that work is impacting employees’ health. But the numbers revealed by a Gallup report are shocking and worrying.

On a scale of 100, if one employee rates her well being as 75 on the well-being scale and another worker rates his as 70, the worker with lower well-being will have:

  • 18.6% higher risk of sleep disorders
  • 15% higher risk of anxiety or depression
  • 14.6% higher risk of diabetes
  • 5.9% higher risk of hypertension
  • 6.3% higher risk of obesity
  • 0.6 unhealthy days in the past 30 days

The concerns around physical, mental and emotional health issues caused by work are rising. The workplaces that are realizing that the office and work culture are the root cause of their employees’ health issues, are increasingly trying to focus on wellness. Let’s look at some of the most common and critical health risks in office and what organizations are doing to minimize them. 

Free or subsidized snack foods in corporate offices

A number of corporate offices have tie-ups with snack food brands that provide free or subsidized snacks to the office cafeteria. Not just that, carbonated drinks, drinks with caffeine and sugar are easily available in these cafeterias, with the promise of providing instant energy. This is a big challenge for employees who are trying to live a healthy lifestyle but have to have immense willpower to ignore the snacks.

Harmful effects

The intake of carbs, sugar and fried food causes mood swings, lethargy, obesity, high cholesterol and several other diseases including negative effects on the cognitive performance of workers.

Some solutions that organizations could try 

  • Replace unhealthy snacks with fruits, salads, and nuts. 
  • Encourage a healthy-eating habit by filling the walls with posters that talk about the benefits of healthy eating.
  • Have a visiting nutritionist for free employee consultation.
  • Build a culture where employees can help each other eat healthier.
  • Promote eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, fiber, and protein-rich foods. 
  • Provide a bottle of water on every employee’s desk.

Also Read: 10 Signs Of Good Company Culture

What are organizations doing?

Facebook’s New York office provides vegan sandwiches, salads, and fruits. Cummins, a diesel and alternative fuel company offers cooking classes in plant-based food to employees. Dropbox offers healthy gourmet meals to employees with food that not only looks interesting, but is also as healthy as food can get.

Deskbound jobs

Let’s face the truth. With the coming of digitization and computers, most jobs have turned into desk jobs that require a person to sit on the chair for long durations. Employers and employees must understand the harmful effects of sitting too long as well as the benefits of physical activity.

Benefits of physical movement

Physical movement has benefits to the body and the brain. Even leisurely walking and moving can have positive effects on the brain. Physical movement helps releases chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine – all related to happiness. 

Harmful effects of sitting 

Research has linked sitting for long periods to risks such as high cholesterol, increase in blood sugar, weight gain, and blood pressure. Too much sitting can also lead to cardiovascular diseases and low blood circulation as a result of burning fewer calories.

Solutions

  • Organizations can provide standing desks that allow employees to stand and work, which uses more energy compared to when working while sitting.
  • 60 to 70 minutes of intense exercise may counter the effects of sitting too much. Organizations must provide exercising facilities within the office premises, such as a gym or yoga classes. Employees could even be provided a gym membership in cases where having a gym inside the office is not feasible.
  • Encourage employees to take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • When talking on the mobile phone, stand or walk and talk.
  • Provide new age cycling or treadmill workstations.

What are companies doing?

Progressive Insurance provides an on-site fitness center in its offices, weight watchers, yoga classes and personal training. Twitter provides yoga, Pilates, Wing Chun Kung Fu and CrossFit Classes to its employees.  The company also offers massages and acupuncture session for a fee.

Other risks and solutions

  • Working too long in front of computer screens can damage the eyes, affect sleep and affect the brain. A number of organizations provide added safety screen on the computers. Employees could use apps that change the brightness of computer screens depending on the light in the room.
  • Overworking is known to cause several health issues and has lead to deadly diseases, too. Japan even has a name for it – Karoshi (death from overwork). The idea of being ‘always on’ and ‘always working’ is nothing less than a disease. Employers must make off-time and holidays mandatory, especially for high-stress jobs.
  • Open office spaces are becoming increasingly popular. But studies reveal that open office spaces could lead to unhappiness and stress. The main reason for this are interruptions and disturbances in an open office that lead to distractions and hence decreased focus. Organizations should provide quiet, private offices or spacious work environments to their employees.

From the color of the walls of the office to the amount of natural sunlight, to the temperature of glass offices with air conditioners, several small factors can lead to big health issues. What are you doing about the health of your employees working in your office and for your own health?