How to encourage your employees to be healthier

Tom Rath, author of ‘Eat Move Sleep’ shares what he’s learned from his wellness research.

Little changes make a big difference to your long-term health.

That’s one important message Tom Rath, senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, shares in his latest book, “Eat Move Sleep.” The book studies how paying attention to three elements—eating, moving and sleeping—is what keeps you well and active.

Rath is keynoting Ragan’s Engaging Today’s Employees conference on Nov. 18. He’ll share what it takes to keep your employees healthy, tips you can share with friends and co-workers and what you can do to start leading a healthier life today.

In the short interview below, Rath previews the conference and his book:

You’ve spent your career analyzing workplace polling at Gallup, but decided to stop working full-time to write this book. What was your inspiration?

Over the last decade at Gallup, I’ve been doing a lot of research about staying ahead of chronic disease and sharing it with people I care about. Last summer, three friends died from chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease) within a month.

Even though leaving Gallup full-time was a little off the path, I decided writing this book was something I needed to do.

When you were doing your research, what do you think affected you the most?

Even if you follow the guidelines of working out 30 to 60 minutes a day, five times a week, that still doesn’t counteract sitting for eight hours when you’re working. If you work 12 hours a day and sleep for six, you’re basically sedentary for 18 hours a day.

I’m trying to make sure I’m active hourly. I got a stationary bike and a treadmill for when I work from home. I get more work done when I’m moving. I created a spreadsheet and tracked how many words and steps I took each day. My word count increased dramatically on the days when I was on the treadmill.

If you can’t work from home, try to get up every 30 minutes or an hour to keep your energy levels up. At your desk, you can put hard-cover books below your computer and alternate between standing and sitting.

You’ll be speaking at our Engaging Today’s Employees conference. What do you hope people will learn from your presentation?

I want managers and communicators to spend more time thinking about how organizations can create a culture of health. Employees want to know: How can we grow as individuals? How will I be able to make a bigger contribution to society because I’ve joined this organization?

I believe companies can be a catalyst for the solution. Think about how we’ve fixed big national problems—smoking, recycling, littering. I would attribute those turnarounds to organizations saying, “You can’t smoke in our offices, campuses or buildings.” It’s one organization; one region at a time.

What are some healthy habits a person can begin at work when they’re reading this article?

One of the biggest things you can do is have as much social interaction as you can. Instead of building your day thinking about much you can get done with little movement, invest time in walking around and talking to people.

Take a break around mid-day. Get outside your office and have a light, healthy lunch with friends. If you eat the right things, you’ll have more energy in the afternoon.

Avoid eating fats and carbs later in the day to get a good night’s sleep and to eat better the next day.

What’s wrong with hospital marketing today?

I’m pretty concerned about our messages when we try to motivate patients and employees. So many of them are focused on minimizing risk and cost.

I don’t like it when companies encourage employees to take “Health Risk Assessments.” I think that wording scares people away from the program. We need to change the language and the programming to explain how we’re all in it together. It’s important to focus on everybody as a group, not just individuals.

Employees want to have more energy and get more done at work. When they see messages about minimizing their risk and cost, it’s intimidating. The conversation should be about how to best optimize social networks to help teams and families stay healthy.

What’s the danger if an employer doesn’t pay attention to the health of employees?

The tactical danger is that health care costs can break a company financially. Executives used to say their biggest fear was unsatisfied customers. Now, health care costs are at the top of the list.

Besides, if employees aren’t healthy, they don’t show up for work or don’t do as much as they can do. This can lead to burn-out. They’ll leave the organization if they see that their jobs compromise their health and well-being.

Only 12 percent of people say their job makes them healthier. That’s not much. But that gives very proactive employers a competitive advantage. Imagine if a company said it was committed to the health of its employees and provided ways to help people get healthier and improve their well-being.

Learn more about our conference here.

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