Any discussion about health care often starts with what happens at the doctor’s office. But when you compare the amount of time an average person spends at the doctor’s office to the amount of time they spend at work, it’s easy to see that your boss can have more impact on your daily wellness than your doctor.
“I’m convinced health care doesn’t start at the doctor it starts at home and at work,” says Dr. Preston Maring, associate physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente’s East Bay Medical Center. “What better place to influence people’s health than a place where they may eat two meals a day? Focusing on employee wellness is not just good business it’s good for our population.”
Maring’s tips are preventive medicine at its best, and although they help with absenteeism and presenteeism, he suggests businesses simply focus on the health benefits.
Smart Business spoke with Maring about how employers can help their employees live a healthier lifestyle.
What can employers do to improve wellness?
One of the simplest things employers can do is to provide easy ways for employees to access good foods on the job. Also, think about offering some fun, simple ways to help people know what to do with fresh fruits and vegetables.
According to recent statistics, only 14 percent of people eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and 40 percent of what people eat is food prepared outside the home. Most of that is fast food and pizza.
If you can encourage employees to cook even one more meal per week at home than they currently do, you could begin to transform the health of the population. Plus, your employees would basically get a raise out of the deal.
Let’s take a $40,000-a-year employee at any workplace in America. Think about a family of four going out for dinner at a family restaurant. They’re going to spend $50 or more. Plus, they sometimes go out three times a week.
You can cook a simple, tasty and quick meal for four at home for $10 to $15. That saves them $30 to $50 from not going out. Multiply that by 52 weeks or even 50 weeks. If you save yourself $50 a week by cooking just one extra meal at home, you save $1,500 to $2,000 a year. That employee with the $40,000 salary has just received a 5 percent raise, after taxes, in a down economy.
But what if your employees don’t know how to cook?
There are a few ways to demystify how to prepare simple meals at home. Employers can partner with someone in the community who is doing low-cost cooking classes or just research online cooking education resources and find some way to make it easily available for employees. Maybe it’s a DVD of a cooking series you found online, or maybe it’s giving away a new chef’s knife or cutting board as a prize for top salesperson or employee of the month.
Those are basic tools that can change someone’s life. A good sharp chef’s knife can transform your life and how you eat.
How can employers provide access to healthy foods in the workplace?
In most communities in America, at least part of the year, community-supported agriculture deliveries are available.
Here’s how CSA works: a single farmer, or a group of three or four small farmers, packages their freshest fruits and vegetables into parcels each week. Boxes are usually ordered by subscription online and typically run between $20 and $30 apiece. The usual model is to have it delivered to a neighborhood backyard, where it’s picked up on delivery day.
An innovative employer could say, ‘We believe that healthy food is so important that we’re going to set up the delivery of these community supported agriculture food boxes directly to interested employees at work.’
So you come to work on a Tuesday, and at 11 a.m. a farmer stops by with boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables for the employees who signed up.
The money goes right to the farmer and your employees get fresher food that tastes better and lasts longer. Most CSA boxes come with recipes for how to use the products in the box. It’s a fun event. It’s like a holiday present every week.
Of course, that’s in addition to working with your cafeteria vendor. Many companies of various sizes have vending machines or cafeterias. There are a variety of programs now that label the foods at cafeterias and call out which are healthy for you and which ones aren’t.
What if CSA delivery is unavailable in your area or just isn’t practical?
CSA is one way to get healthy food to employees; the second way is working with the cafeteria vendors to get healthier choices. A third way is farmers markets.
If you have a large business where thousands of people gather on a daily basis for work, or a smaller business that is surrounded by two or three other buildings, and if the community has more farmers looking for a farmers market than there are markets, then you have the right mix. You can work with the local farmers market association and bring a farmers market directly to the people.
When there is a fresh peach in front of your business in the middle of July, it’s awfully hard to walk by. The farmers are looking for a market; you have thousands of people who could eat the food it’s a win-win.
Dr. Preston Maring is the associate physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente’s East Bay Medical Center. Reach him at (510) 752-7506 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his blog at kp.org/farmersmarketrecipes.