Suzanne Lucas

Is Your Workplace Culture Harming Your Employees’ Health?

Workplace culture has a bigger impact on your employees’ health than you may think. Your company’s culture influences a wide range of behaviors, from seeking health care to unhealthy eating and drinking to managing stress and mental health.

If you want healthy employees who show up every day and do great work, consider these five ways your company’s culture could be affecting your employees’ health.

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1. What’s a Sick Day?

Organizational attitudes toward wellness start at the top: If the boss is sick, what do they do? Do they come in anyway or stay home to take care of themselves? Do they shame or write up employees for absences, even when those absences are related to illness?

A culture that encourages people to stay home when they’re sick is a healthy culture. If Bob has the flu and stays home, everyone else is less likely to contract it. If, however, your culture encourages — or even forces — Bob to come in, not only will his performance be down, he may infect others. Make sure your company culture (and policy) encourages paid time off for illness.

2. And What About Vacation?

Taking time off — real time off where you’re not doing work — is good for your mental and physical health. It can even reduce heart attacks among people at risk. Employees who can’t (or feel they can’t) take a vacation don’t get time to decompress. And employers who don’t promote vacation benefits risk creating a workforce of burned-out employees who can’t perform at their peak and are more likely to leave.

Your company may have a great vacation policy, but if your culture encourages people to work, work, work, your employees won’t use it. Again, leadership sets the example. If they want their employees to take regular vacations, the boss needs to do so, too. From there, every manager needs to make sure their people get the time off they’re entitled to.

Also ensure that vacation is truly time away from work. Don’t require or encourage employees to check their email on vacation. Make it clear that if an emergency occurs, employees will be contacted by phone (not email). This will help employees maximize their time away from the office and come back feeling refreshed.

3. Let’s Talk Company Parties

How does your company celebrate? Pizza and cake in the break room? What about copious amounts of alcohol for an evening event? While some employees might enjoy having a drink with colleagues, others may feel pressured to behave in ways they don’t want to — and alienated if they don’t. On top of encouraging potentially unhealthy habits and creating unnecessary stress, this can put at risk the everyday interpersonal relationships that are key for productivity.

Next time, consider encouraging some healthier and more inclusive behavior by changing up your party approach. Why not go bowling, or plan a menu with nutritious options? You don’t have to go full wheatgrass and kale — fun nonalcoholic beverage options and fresh fruits and veggies may do the trick.

4. What’s in the Break Room?

Lots of companies like to offer free food — and employees often love these perks. But if that steady supply of free snacks or meals is limited to or dominated by unhealthy options, it’s likely to take a toll on your employees’ overall health levels.

Consider trading out the highest-calorie and sugariest snacks in favor of healthier choices. Salads, fresh fruit, sparkling water and trail mixes may all be better-for-you options that staff will enjoy.

5. How’s the Company Stress Level?

Many companies are aware of the ways their employees’ personal lives generate stress that impacts workplace performance, but fewer look closely at how their organizational culture may be contributing.

How do you handle productivity benchmarks, workload allocations or client “emergencies”? Do executives feel they have the right to pressure — or demand — employees to stay late to finish projects or even routine work? Do people yell at each other in the workplace?

These are all choices your company makes. Sure, at times stress is inevitable, but if company culture largely dictates how employee stress is created and handled. Simply put, reducing company stress can have a positive effect on employee health.

Company culture and health care go hand in hand. The good news is that just as poor choices trickle down from the top, healthy ones lead to others. Combine a workplace culture of wellness with benefits that make those attitudes even more actionable and you’re well on your way to a happy, productive workforce.

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