I always feel personally responsible when it comes to the well-being of the people I work with. But I’m not certain the rest of the world feels this way. As I see the burden of staying well increasingly rest on the shoulders of the employer, employee water cooler talk consists of what an employer is or isn’t offering when it comes to wellness. Friends from varying companies compare competing amenities like workout facilities, on-site coaching, tracking portals, or vending machine options. Colleagues talk trash about lack of subsidized classes, long work hours, lack of wellness resources, and more. Fitbits – employer. Seminars – employer. Standing desks – employer. Actual lunch breaks – employer.
Thus, are we, the employee, really creating the unhealthy environment? After years of being in the wellness field and working with both employers and individual clients, my realization remains that through one person’s change in habits, an entire department can reap the benefits.
These are the kinds of conversations I like to have – and some people don’t like to hear them. I often think about how we create barriers for our co-workers who are trying to make a better choice. If just one person brought in doughnuts every Monday, that may account for: 1 person with diabetes eating too much sugar, 1 person with gluten issues experiencing days of discomfort, 1 person exceeding their caloric goal for the day, 1 person delaying their healthy eating yet another week.
In addition to food, there is often pressure to work through lunch, steadily increasing unhealthy competition (people may see you as a threat), or even bullying. These are all interactions and perceptions by employees. It is my employer that provides the privilege of taking a lunch. It is my own doing that I don’t take it.
Now, I am an employee and I advocate for employees. But we can’t keep making excuses. Healthy competition keeps you on your game, and supporting others through their wellness endeavors will make both you and your colleague better employees and better allies.
It is really you that ultimately influences your work environment. Workplace well-being starts right where you stand (or sit at your desk). Stand up and ask your co-worker to join you for a walking lunch instead of a binging lunch. It will do you both some good. Offer support and resources to your co-workers. Tell them about a good experience with an EAP coach, or offer to share a healthy recipe. Be a good listener while still maintaining professional boundaries. As an employee, you aren’t expected to be a counselor, a fitness instructor, or anything else you are not. That is why the employer is often the means…but your responsibility to follow through is the only way you will reach the end.
Employers want to know what you want and what you need. Your well-being benefits their bottom line. When you are emotionally and physically well, you come alert to work, produce better products, interact more positively with your colleagues and make for a more enjoyable workday. Who doesn’t want that? Employers are not mind readers. It’s people that make up workplaces. It’s people that listen and act. Tell the people that make decisions where you work what you desire and what will help you on your path to well-being. By being a voice (but not a complainer), I have found that I can be an advocate for well-being that will ultimately impact my own work life and my colleagues’.