Why Workplace Fitness Needs To Be Your Topmost Priority
I refuse to believe it as just a mere coincidence.
I have been forced twice in the past week to ruminate on whether we consider health irreverently most of the time. ‘Twas a Monday afternoon. Dinesh Singh, VP of Engineering at Aasaanjobs, was the protagonist of an animated conversation during lunch time in the office pantry, in which we discussed just how inspiring it was to see Dinesh Singh shed almost 15 kilos in 3 months with a rigorous fitness regime comprising of a strict diet and no exercise. Colleagues had gone so far as to place bets on him failing to achieve the milestone and the bet money had stood at a whopping Rs. 70,000 at its pinnacle before Dinesh Singh shattered everyone’s hopes, much like Brad Pitt in Snatch. Dinesh Singh’s story has been retold multiple times in social gatherings to much applause, and social gatherings, as you know, are just an excuse for many individuals to indulge in unhealthy practices. Unfortunately, not much has happened beyond that.
And then last Sunday, I attended the #QuakerBowl event, popularizing the use of oats as an alternative grain for mass consumption, organised by Indiblogger in JW Marriot Juhu. Much fun was had, with the proceedings starting off with a small talk on nutrition and health, followed by a Taher Shah lookalike (ushered in by a thunderous playback of his latest hit number (?) ‘Angel‘ on the white screen) making the audience do some peculiar sit ups and exercises.
— Noodle Froot (@Kaunstellation) April 10, 2016
— Quaker India (@QuakerIndia) April 10, 2016
…who then took centre stage and talked about nutrition in India. He elaborated on his travels that took him across the world, where he found out about American kids getting gluten intolerant (it is estimated that around 15% of the American population is gluten intolerant) and the fact that nearly 29% of Indian children suffered from malnutrition. He then touched upon his discovery of oats in some regions of Southern India as an alternative grain for rice or wheat, and how it could effectively be used to combat nutrition related issues that we face today. Khanna exhorted the blogger community to make a difference with their actions and words, hinging upon the catchphrase ‘Better nutrition, better future’ contributed by a member in the audience.
A while later, as an oat cooking competition raged fiercely with the heat turned on (literally) between teams of bloggers, I found myself thinking once more about how Dinesh Singh’s story had been treated as just a mere anecdote by all of us, and not something to actually take seriously. In the travails of our professional life, how often do we really think about the overall wellness of being of the quintessential office worker?
The Dark Side Of Negligence
With the onset of a modern working lifestyle, the words ‘productivity’ and ‘efficiency’ at the workplace has gained a strong foothold in the lexicon of an average professional – either of the words being mentioned at least once during any meeting or being mentioned in the passing by a manager to a subordinate. When your devotion to the work place determines your career progression, it becomes hard to concentrate on anything else. Hobbies, household chores, healthy food, exercise and sleep – all take a backseat as one strives hard to make a mark in the corporate world.
This can reach an extreme – in a way elucidated in the Amazon work culture, where employee performance is measured through data, feedback given on these established metrics on almost a real time basis and the workplace is extremely competitive. Team members are encouraged to rip into each other’s ideas mincing no words (employees are frequently seen crying at their desks), and personal commitments are something that will not be understood by the management (a mother who had recently given birth to a still born child was told through email that her “work would be continuously monitored to make sure her focus stayed on her work”). Some argue that a relentless culture at the office brings forth more innovation as employees are constantly pushed past their limits, with ex-employees saying that they had become addicted to the fast paced work culture once they left and joined some place else. ‘Purposeful Darwinism’ dictated that the company hire the best of the lot, make them ‘settle’ in the ‘burn and churn’ routine and further retain the ones that survived the grueling routine, managing out the ones that remained at the bottom during employee reviews. In fact, other companies near its vicinity have benefited from the steady exodus of talented, driven employees from Amazon.
“A lot of people who work there feel this tension: It’s the greatest place I hate to work.” said John Rossman, a former executive at Amazon.
The outcome of over exertion can be fatal. Last year, an Indian analyst’s death at Goldman Sachs had triggered a huge debate over long hours and the consequent high stress levels among young executives. The news of a 24 year old Ogilvy & Mather employee dying due to a cardiac arrest made waves across the world, because, after all, that is not an age you are supposed to have heart attacks, right?
The Rigors of an Urban Landscape
The urban lifestyle may demand differently from people belonging to different income groups. For instance, job roles requiring an on field presence such as field sales, delivery boys, promoters etc. are required to perform notwithstanding the vagaries of the market or even Mother Nature, more so if a component of their salary is incentive based which is sort of the norm nowadays. An Uber driver may want to drive more during surge pricing, instantly banishing any thoughts of a meal taken well in time. A Vada Pav here, a Misal Pav there – seem to take care of all nutritional requirements of the average Mumbaikar. Take into account the amount of travelling that goes into a person travelling from a far flung area (where housing costs are low and affordable) to the commercial part of the city where the office is located- and suddenly time becomes the most important commodity.
Various factors contribute to illnesses in the white collar space – a sedentary position leading to problems in the upper torso and back, stress accumulated from deadline pressures, contagious common ailments such as cold and flu, unhealthy eating habits that range from having junk food at intermittent intervals of time or skipping meals altogether, depression, anxiety – and the sad part about it is that a majority of people choose to ignore symptoms and thus miss a chance to nip it in the bud while they still have a chance.
Both of the above scenarios become more painfully evident as one starts to realize the socio-economic origins behind the failure to adopt a healthy routine. The onus is on the individual to make the effort. Many entry level workers who are bachelors, having left their erstwhile home towns to work in metropolitan cities and living with other individuals who are similarly, blissfully ignorant, find it difficult to make it part of their routine, more so if a culture of healthy habits haven’t been inculcated right from one’s childhood. The cost of enrolling for fitness programs too are sometimes prohibitively high for some while some others will just not have the time.
In The Absence Of Mothers
The one personality, that we all associate with cultivating healthy eating habits and practices, is indubitably our mothers (or the father, or the caretaker if you will so as to leave no one behind!). However, such is the plight of the country that around 30% of the population aged between 18-47 do not exercise, and around 75% of Indians below the age of 40 are stressed out. There is a similar reticence displayed in buying appropriate medical insurance as well, citing a high premium value, even though everyone is aware of the rising healthcare costs. The absence of a figure requires the individual to either buck up and take charge of things, or make sure that they enroll for external programs that take care of one’s medical and health needs.
Some companies have taken the initiative to float workplace wellness programs for their employees, wherein workers can opt for self training sessions, interactions with experts on nutrition and fitness, regular tests, workshops on combating addiction to tobacco etc. Companies too save on rising costs that they otherwise incur due to absenteeism owing to ill health, decrease in productivity and increasing premium costs on individual employee medical insurance plans. This reduces a significant amount of time that a worker would invest in researching on fitness programs and then implementing them.
The Health Of An Organization
Abhijit Bhaduri, Chief Learning Officer at Wipro, writer and HR expert, in a recent blog post talked about the benefits of a company being able to track information on the ‘wellness level’ of their employees. A platform already exists. ActiveHealth boils down intricate employee health data into a single variable that can be used by companies to judge their ‘health’ indicator.
Organizations with healthier employees would be naturally be seen as being more productive by the investors/shareholders and would also spend less on medical and insurance costs for employees, on diseases that are seen as lifestyle hence preventable. In fact, studies published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, pointed out that companies who are successfully running a workplace wellness program outperformed the Standard and Poor’s index by a stunning 16%. Moreover, a Forbes report said that “for every $1 spent on a health program in a workplace, $16 is saved through absenteeism”. It thus becomes hugely profitable for companies to sponsor such programs, monitor the results and track the wellness data in order to flaunt it as a competitive advantage over other companies in their domain.
Doing It Right
In terms of overall employee satisfaction in workplaces, companies such as RMSI, Intuit Technology Services, SAP Labs India and Google India feature among the top companies that invest in healthcare solutions and workplace wellness program for their employees. A survey conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute revealed that MNCs score better in terms of workplaces than Indian companies. Although one may argue here that MNCs have more budget at their disposal to invest, the idea is to see it in terms of the money saved in the longer run as opposed to the money spent.
As the blogger meet ended with a sumptuous meal where everything from Paneer Masala to Chicken Dahiwala contained oats, I couldn’t help but think if mere words written in a blog post would be enough to make working professionals think critically on this issue. You, Dear Reader, could perhaps make this happen from your end by sharing this post and apprising more of your colleagues or bosses about the importance of health, well being and nutrition in the office, for a better workplace in the future.
Do comment your thoughts in the comments section below, while I go off to finish a musk melon – part of a fruit diet that I have started recently. Bon jour!
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Also published on Medium.