Here’s to our health

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Not many decades ago, the concept of wellness in the workplace – that healthy employees make better workers – was considered to be groundbreaking. Times have changed, and it’s encouraging to note that for most companies, wellness is now a “check-off” program.

The results have been considerable, starting with successful smoking-cessation programs in the 1980s to today’s workplace, where many companies offer employees various opportunities to monitor their health and learn about healthy living while at work.

But let’s face it – staying healthy takes work. And it can be tough to do, especially when work can be so demanding. You have projects and priorities pulling you in different directions. Who has time to focus on their personal well-being? and how do companies make wellness a reality? Six keys to a successful employee wellness program

While not absolute, I believe there are six key elements required to enable a truly successful employee wellness program within a company:

  1. A business value proposition for wellness that’s clear, and fully understood and embraced by company leaders
  2. Programs that engage employees (and sometimes their extended families) to build excitement and create community around a culture of wellness
  3. Programs that target common and meaningful health issues such as weight management
  4. Available tools and training so employees can independently manage their health concerns
  5. Routine and voluntary health monitoring (such as biometric screenings) to help employees identify areas of risk
  6. Use of technology to enhance overall wellness awareness and user experience while enabling scalability and efficiency of program deployment.

I’m proud to say that LSI doesn’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to wellness initiatives. We have a host of programs, and we’re always looking for ways to improve them.

We’re obviously in good company. In the San Francisco Bay area alone, more than 60 companies large and small recently participated in a program to determine the healthiest employers for that region. LSI finished in the top 10 in the 500-1,999 employee category based on the number of workers we have at our San Jose headquarters. This is the second consecutive year that LSI has made the list.

Our wellness programs run the gamut, including on-site fitness centers and exercise classes, incentive-based initiatives, personal health coaches, a worldwide annual table tennis tournament and participation in the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC), a virtual walking program aimed at changing the exercise behavior and improving the health of employees around the world.

The GCC promotes taking 10,000 steps a day to lose weight and get in shape. It’s working for us at LSI, with employees racking up nearly 4 billion steps over the past four months. That equates to burning off 651,632 pieces of chocolate cake. No matter how you slice it, that’s a ton of calories!

Numerous studies bear out that the benefits of workplace wellness programs far outweigh the costs of offering them. For instance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that productivity losses due to personal and family health issues can cost U.S. businesses $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

You can find other insightful information in a CDC article titled “Wellness in the Workplace,” which states that “A wellness program aimed at keeping employees healthy is a key long-term human asset management strategy.” Included in the article are several resources on wellness programs and their benefits.

Another article, “Leading by Example: The Value of Worksite Health Promotion to Small and Medium-sized Employers,” outlines actions small- and medium-sized employers can take to provide for healthier employees, and highlights new tax credits and other programs that are available to smaller businesses under the U.S. Affordable Care Act. The article appears on the website for the Partnership for Prevention, a nonpartisan organization of business, nonprofit and government leaders working to make evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion a national priority.

And the U.S. Small Business Administration offers more insights and resources withWorkplace Wellness: Improving Health and Controlling Health Care Spending. This article includes a link to the Affordable Care Act’s final rules related to new incentives for employer wellness programs, as well as information about preventive services covered under the act.

From the looks of it, employees have more opportunities than ever before to get in shape and stay in shape. And their employers benefit, too, from having a healthier, happier workforce. We’ve come a long way in making wellness a permanent part of the workplace.

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When I was growing up, my parents always had words of wisdom like “Eat your vegetables!” or “Sit up straight!” and “Don’t stare at the sun!” But I don’t recall them ever saying to me, “Take all of your vacation!”

Of course, my parents didn’t know how important vacation would be to me as an adult. Actually, I’ve discovered that vacation is important to all of us. The health benefits of getting away from it all can’t be overstated. We all need to strike a balance between work and play; but unfortunately, many of us don’t do that.

Give yourself a break
How many times have you said to yourself, “I don’t have time to take a vacation” or “It takes too much effort to plan a getaway.” Work is always pounding at your door and there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get it all done, right?

There are other reasons, too, according to a survey recently conducted by Expedia, the online travel booking website. They include saving vacation days for the future, difficulty in coordinating family schedules, lack of money and the need to schedule a vacation too far out.

The survey, which you can look at here, has a global perspective. For instance, it shows that managers in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and India are most likely to support employees taking vacations. On the flip side, managers least likely to do so are found in Italy, South Korea, Denmark and Argentina, according to the study. And although Americans earn less vacation time than the rest of the world, they usually don’t take it all, the report says.

And what are the top vacations by category? The survey ranks a beach holiday first (35 percent), followed by a romantic getaway (19 percent), city vacation (12 percent) and outdoor holiday (12 percent).

A prescription for stress relief
But let’s look at vacations from another perspective – your health. There are lots of studies out there that show that down time is important to a person’s physical and mental well-being. The Expedia survey, for example, indicated that 34 percent of the respondents reported feeling better about their jobs and believed they were more productive after taking a vacation.

Another study conducted by tour operator Kuoni and Nuffield Health, the United Kingdom’s largest health care charity, pointed out specific health benefits derived from vacations. To conduct the study, called the Holiday Health Experiment, people were invited to apply for 12 slots. Half of those selected were then sent on a two-week vacation either to Thailand, Peru or the Maldives, while the remainder stayed home and worked.

It’s not surprising that more than 10,000 applied for the study. The individuals chosen were given a health assessment that included measuring their resilience to stress, and monitoring their heart and sleep patterns.

Among the report’s conclusions? Those who went on vacation displayed more energy, had reduced stress and exhibited a more positive mood. They also found themselves sleeping more soundly. “Long-term improvement of sleep can have a positive impact on weight and lower risk of common diseases such as diabetes and also heart disease…” the study says.

One subject of the study who went on vacation also benefitted health-wise from her experience. “Her blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose drops are corresponding with the reductions in stress we saw on her Heart Rate Variability tests, which is good for her long-term health,” the report states.

And then there’s a study of 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease came up with a sobering conclusion. Those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off annually. A separate survey of women came up with even more startling results. The Framingham Heart Study showed that women who took time off once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.

Unwind and unplug
At LSI, we recognize the importance and value of vacation time. We offer a competitive vacation policy to ensure that all of our employees have the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate. In fact, for the past few years, we have designated one additional holiday for all employees worldwide as a way of saying thank you for their hard work and to encourage them to “unplug” for a day.  

When you take everything into consideration, it’s pretty obvious that vacations are a necessary part of our lives. So my advice to you – take all of your vacation!

 

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