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Toxic Workplaces & Employee Wellness go Hand-in-Hand

Rachel Reed
2/19/20 1:53 PM

An organization is only as healthy as it’s employees.

And by healthy organization, I mean a profitable one. By a healthy employee, I mean a mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, and socially secure one–in the workplace in particular. 

Personal wellness may seem… well, personal, but a lack of opportunity to make healthy choices negatively affects organizational performance.  

Employees with good health behaviors have lower absenteeism, are more engaged, and more productive. In fact, employees are 14% percent more engaged when provided time off to recharge, 10% more engaged when provided healthy food options, 18% more engaged when provided time for healthy activities,  and 18% more engaged when provided a flexible schedule, according to Quantum Workplace

Employee wellbeing is comprised of four key elements: physical, financial, emotional and social well-being. Paying attention to wellness needs of individual employees, allowing time to recharge and/or exercise as well as providing clarity and assistance with health and financial plans are simple ways to address each and boost employee engagement. 

Nearly all employees (92%) say having workplace wellness initiatives are important, but new research recently released finds far fewer of their employers (60%) are actually offering these initiatives—and its impacting productivity, quality of work and overall health, according to a news release by Cision PR Newswire.

Healthy, active employees incur lower health costs

In a case study of large companies, total medical spending at a company with an employee wellness program experienced slower growth in health costs than companies without a program. Employees saw meaningful reductions in chronic disease risk factors; and average annual savings per employee were $565 (in 2009 dollars), producing a return on investment equal to a range of approximately $2 to $4 saved per dollar spent on the program.

A recent study by Sermo found that 85% of physicians think insurance companies should cover dietician visits to help educate overweight patients on proper nutrition even if they do not have any metabolic abnormalities and 65% of doctors recommend that employers give employees a paid exercise hour. 

Let’s Talk Exercise 

US Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that only one in three adults achieve the recommended amount of physical activity each week, and more than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.

A Harvard study showed the benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. There is evidence that it boosts mental abilities like:

  • Enhanced creativity
  • Quicker learning
  • Sharper memory
  • Improved concentration

Some research suggests that exercising during working hours can also pump up work performance. A Leeds Metropolitan University study found that workers who visited the gym during working hours were more productive, managed their time better, and felt more work satisfaction.

According to MedlinePlus, regular exercise helps flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways – reducing the risk of the common cold, flu, and other illnesses. Physical activity strengthens your employees’ immune systems – making them less susceptible to whatever bug is going around the office. Employees that workout regularly are also generally healthier than their sedentary counterparts. This means less sick days, less medical appointments, and overall reduced absenteeism.

Another study showed that regardless of age, people experience “immediate benefits” for cognition following a “single bout of moderate exercise” such as 15 minutes of moderately intense cycling on a stationary bike. These findings suggest that working out during the day could be even better than bookending gym time before or after the office. 

A research team from a 2008 study in the UK found that of 200 employees, those who had access to and used a company gym were more productive during the day, and went home feeling more satisfied on the days they exercised during regular work hours. 

A culprit of an unhealthy workplace: toxicity 

A toxic workplace can significantly impact a company’s performance level and stunt future growth. In fact, a recent study shows that toxicity in the workplace is costing businesses more than $223 billion.

A large majority of us spend our time and energy at work, and increasing hostility in the workplace doesn’t bode well for our emotional or physical wellbeing.

Research over the past 20 years has associated toxic work environments with increased depression, substance use, and health issues among employees. Further research has shown that organizations are suffering as well. Some of these adverse effects include decreased productivity, lower levels of employee commitment and increased turnover.

Toxicity in the workplace isn’t necessarily noticeable until it has rooted itself deep within company culture. 

A few signs of a toxic workplace: 

  • Little to No Enthusiasm: Look around the office. Is anyone happy to be working there? Is anyone smiling? Are conversations positive and upbeat? Is anyone talking at all? A ”no” to these questions equals toxicity.
  • High Turnover: When the work environment has nothing good to offer except dysfunction, poor morale, and sickness, people will start heading for the door to find a better situation. If you notice a high turnover rate in your company or department, take that as a sign of a toxic workplace.
  • Employee Sickness: Toxic workplaces lead to employee burnout, fatigue, and illness due to high levels of stress that wreak havoc on our bodies. If people are calling in sick or worse, are working sick, that's a good sign of a toxic work environment.
  • Lack of Communication or Negative Communication: You and others don't get the necessary information to do your job. You work hard with no positive feedback and no recognition, and you might even be told to be glad you have a job at all.
  • Cliques, Gossip, and Rumors: Everyone seems to be out for themselves, and there are no genuine friendships among employees. There's lots of infighting and paranoia as well as gossip and rumors.

Another way to classify workplace toxicity is “a workplace environment that significantly disrupts the worker’s ability to perform.” 

Further, workplace civility, described by McKinsey and Company as “rampant and on the rise”,  is “the accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected—intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues, or publicly belittled by an insensitive manager.”

"Workplace toxicity leads to adverse effects in part by stimulating people to ruminate on their negative work experiences,” leading to long-term negative health consequences according to the authors. "Negative rumination represents an active cognitive preoccupation with work events, either in an attempt to solve work problems or anticipate future work problems."

No matter how you define it, nearly 38% of employees say they decrease the quality of their work in a toxic work environment and 12% have left their jobs as a result of a toxic workplace.

Workplace wellness is about more than health insurance

Toxic work environments that leave employees uncomfortable, on edge, and constantly under scrutiny lead to mental health issues, burnout, and withdrawal at work. 

The Business Benefits of Prioritizing Wellness

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased engagement
  • Lower absenteeism rates
  • Lower presenteeism rates
  • Talent attraction and retention
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Increased job and life satisfaction
  • Improved business performance

How does what your organization provides for employee wellness translate into happiness or employee engagement? 

PricewaterhouseCoopers have taken wellness to new heights in 2020:

“It’s really taking the stigma out of the conversation and framing this around how do we create environments where people can do their best work, fulfill their potential, and how do we rebuild resilience in a world where there’s a lot change, a lot of disruption. Those aren’t just buzzwords. Those are experiences that we are all living with in terms of how our jobs are changing and organizations are being disrupted,” said Michael. 

Mike Serbinis, a Silicon Valley executive who grows and sells tech companies, is also an advocate for prioritizing workplace wellness and looks beyond the beer kegs and foosball tables associated with Millennial-centric workplace culture:

“In today’s work environment, valuing people’s mental health is not something that you take care of through a claim to your insurer when it’s bad,” says Mike. “It’s something that you take care of all the time. You’re proactive.”

Refreshed wellness offerings in the workplace can build a sense of community and open up channels of communication and trust between peers and managers alike. 

Wellness impacts more than the individual

Top companies provide a better mix of benefits than the traditional health insurance and 401(k) to ensure not only worker health & safety, but also personalized plans to ensure workers can work their best - comfortable, motivated, and frequently recognized employees perform better. 

Overwhelmed? Start by Asking Employees What They Think Workplace Wellness Looks Like

Create an idea generator to address concerns (mental health). These sessions will not only provide valuable employee feedback, but also can serve as idea generation to improve customer service. Employees at the front line are your most valuable source for improving both your customer and employee experiences. 

Set your employees up for success. Be an advocate for their health and provide a working environment that allows them to provide their best focus, attitude, and performance. Take it a step further with recognition: wellness initiatives with an employee recognition program to keep morale and momentum high. 

Download: How Employee Recognition Influences Attitude & Behavior in the Workplace 

employee recognition attitudes and behavior download-1

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