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Workplace Wellness for Everyone: An Interview with Laura Putnam

Not that long ago, workplace wellness programs were thought of as a nice to have for companies. Fast forward to a world of increased health awareness and rising healthcare costs. Today, wellness in the workplace is an essential component of a great company culture

So, how healthy is your place of work?  

According to author Laura Putnam, a successful employee wellness program doesn't require a big budget. Even better — it can provide a variety of benefits to your company's bottom line. 

In her new book, Workplace Wellness that Works (Wiley, 2015), Laura Putnam explains how any company can infuse well-being and vitality into their organization. 

We invite you to tune in to this Workplace Wellness podcast.

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Monster: You know, so much of our daily work life is very stress-inducing whether it's on our minds, our bodies, what is the toll of that ever longer commute and poorly designed cubicles, how is that impacting workplace productivity?

Putnam:  The average American is sitting about 9.3 hours a day and a lot of that is when we're at work. When we're sitting we are not able to use our brains to its full capacity. Human beings were designed to move. 

But beyond this, Connie, the workplace itself is really a source of worker stress. While there are many well-intended workplace wellness programs that really trying to get at stress and trying to help employees to better manage their stress, what the research is increasingly showing is that the workplace, itself, is a major source of stress. 

Some of these stressors are things like long hours, lack of job security, perceptions of unfairness and toxicity in the workplace and also a perceived lack of control. 

All of these together, these kinds of factors are really tough on our bodies and on our minds really limiting our productive capacity.

Monster: How would a small business or growing business create a sense of well-being, as you say in the book, a culture of well-being? How do they build that wellness into their place of work from the start?

Putnam: A small organization, especially in the beginning, really has the opportunity to be able to create the template for what is going to be the way of being when people are at work. 

One of the first things that every organization does in its infancy is to not only establish their long term and short term goals but also to establish their company values. These values really go hand in hand with culture as well as promoting well-being at work. Or, the opposite, as well as potentially not promoting well-being at work. 

Monster: What are the benefits of a workplace wellness? 

Putnam: Community well-being is a big element. Financial well-being, career well-being, all of these kinds of elements really impact the bottom line. For example, a study out of the University of Warwick showed that happy employees are 12% more productive than the average worker and unhappy workers are 10% less productive than the average worker. 

It can really impact absenteeism and presenteeism, as in this is a problem that we are seeing a lot of is where people show up to work and they're there in body but not fully there in mind and that is a huge drain on productivity. 

Workplace wellness, when done well, can really have an impact on employee turnover rates, customer loyalty and levels of team collaboration and creativity in terms of energy levels that people have when they're at work. 

Finally, it’s about being an employer of choice. These are the real wins in terms of workplace wellness. Millennials increasingly really expect employers to have workplace wellness so in order to be competitive in the talent market, companies are increasingly discovering that they really need to have workplace wellness and again, workplace wellness that's done well. 

Monster: In your book you mention companies where safety is paramount as part of a wellness program. How are companies combining that with wellness?

Putnam: As we all know Congress enacted the Health and Safety Act not the Health or Safety Act so I'm not quite sure how it is that we have historically ended up separating the two but fortunately with an effort by the US Government really started in 2011 there's been a growing effort to blend safety and health together. This is what is called the Total Worker Health Initiative

There have been a number of companies that have really embracing this joint approach for a long time. This includes companies like Dow Chemical or Johnson and Johnson, Union Pacific, the railroad company, has been embracing this for a long time as well as Bay Area companies like Pacific Gas and Electric and they have a fit for duty program. 

One of my favorite examples of a company that is blending the two together is a company called Skanska. What they did is they had the workers bring in photographs of themselves with their family members and then they placed these photographs on their hardhats so when the workers are on the construction site they're able to immediately see their co-workers family pictures on their hardhats and able to make social connections from that. 

What they've found with this initiative was that it actually was a strong contributor to safety on the job and they actually received a number of safety awards after this initiative. 

Monster: Is it a matter of going to the employees to ask what defines wellness for them? What kind of things would they want to participate in? 

Putnam: Absolutely. We can never assume that we know what is meaningful to the people within an organization. So, a good way to start is to ask people what matters most to them. What is front and center for them. We can never make those assumptions. 

The other piece that I get really frustrated with is that ultimately, it's really about how organizations can stop targeting the individual. It’s not about making individuals feel like “it's your fault your fat kind of thing,” to say it in very crass terms, and more about how can we design an environment and a culture that supports well-being in the workplace? 

These are what I like to call nudges and cues. Companies that build in nudges, prompts that make it easy to engage in health and well-being and cues or cultural prompts that make it normal to engage. 

One of the most important factors of this is actually the manager. The manager, effectively, gives their team permission to engage in their health and well-being or they do just the opposite. 

So, if the company culture  within a team is to each lunch at your desk, for example, it's likely that you'll do that rather than take advantage of a yoga class, for example, that might be offered during lunch time.

Monster: It's all very inspiring and I think it's an evolution of workplace values that will only benefit, as you say, the business as well as the employees in terms of their life longevity, in terms of their productivity. It's just really positive all around. 

Putnam:  It's a really easy thing to do.

Author Bio: Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness that Works (Wiley, 2015), is founder and CEO of Motion Infusion, a well-being consulting firm that provides creative solutions in the areas of engagement, behavior change and human performance management.  She has worked with a range of organizations, from Fortune 500s to government agencies to academic institutions and nonprofits. 


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