Rethinking workplace wellness for office workers in the Internet age
For sedentary office-based jobs, workplace wellness is something of a non sequitur. Especially considering American adults spend nearly half their waking hours at work (not counting commute time) as was pointed out earlier this week at a Sacramento, Calif. symposium on wellness incentives hosted by the California Senate and Assembly Health committees and the California Endowment. Employers remain split on the benefit of workplace wellness programs. In a recent survey, equal numbers indicated that the programs have either improved or had no appreciable impact on the health of their workforces.
Symposium participants discussed making it easier for cubicle-bound workers to move around more at work by providing onsite exercise classes and breaks. Also, installing standing “tread desks” that allow workers to walk a treadmill while working. I imagine typing on a keyboard is rather challenging in this moving position that aside from the cost of these machines calls into question its widespread use and adoption. The tread desk has great ironic symbolism attached to it. It represents — to the point of absurdity — how some employers are attempting to accommodate a deeply embedded industrial age notion that knowledge work can only be accomplished in a office or cubicle located in an urban center or office park while at the same time encouraging office workers to get off their duffs and move more in order to reduce health care utilization and absenteeism.
A more elegant and sensible solution is to treat knowledge workers as knowledge workers instead of assembly line workers who can only do productive work at a “bench” or desk during set timeframes. Knowledge workers conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, problem solve, write and report. That work is essentially performed in the brain. The brain goes wherever the worker goes and is location independent. Moreover, as many office workers can attest, it doesn’t easily switch on and off in “work time” and “non work time” mode. With information accessible most everywhere 7/24 via the Internet, it’s potentially always working. The best and most creative ideas and solutions to tough problems are often conceived outside the formal workplace. They bubble up during sleep and exercise, particularly vigorous exercise when the brain is flooded with endorphins and oxygen.
Some of the best thinking and problem solving can be done outside the workplace doing the very things health experts say most Americans need more of to maintain better health: sleep and exercise. That’s a prescription for potentially enhanced employee wellness and improved productivity. Throw in using office space for meetings instead of housing workers in cubicle farms five days a week and there’s the added bonus of saving on office overhead as well as employee health costs.
The ultimate workplace wellness program for knowledge workers is to allow them to work anywhere and manage their schedules. They’ll have a lot more time for exercise when they’re not commuting and sitting in traffic. Measure their work product by the quality of the product — and not by how many hours they put in at the office.