6 Ways to Save Your Life — and Your Company

June 5, 2014

By: Tom Gardner, Chloe Sosenko

Originally posted on Tom Gardner’s LinkedIn page

Your employer is putting you in harm’s way.

In fact, you can’t smoke cigarettes fast enough to match the damage that today’s workplace is doing to you. And not just you, but everyone from the newest hire to your CEO. Your company is unknowingly dragging the life from all of you.

My co-creator for this article is Chloe Sosenko, a rising senior with a 3.5 GPA on a dual focus in psychology and entrepreneurship. She’s a walk-on defensive starter and captain of the University of Michigan women’s soccer team, which made it to the Elite 8 in last year’s Division I National Championships. Her head coach describes her as “very intelligent, disciplined, committed to success.”

You want to hire someone like Chloe.

But a year from now, when she’s ready to throw her enthusiastic efforts into business, unless you’re committed to change, she’s not going to accept your offer. Neither will many of her teammates. Actually, most of her generation will be leaving your company in its present form over the next decade. Why?

Because they know that if they work in your environment, within 10 years, they’ll be overweight, pre-diabetic, worn down by repetitive tasks, with burned-out adrenals. They’ll function at declining rates, finding it troublingly difficult to break the habits they’ve formed in your office.

That may seem exaggerated, but it’s the state of work around the world. We can all do far better than this. And your motivation to try can be purely economic: a healthier workplace makes for higher sustained performance and lower medical costs.

Here are six ways to save your life — and your company:

1) Sitting Disease

The average adult spends nearly 8 hours each day sitting. What about you? The World Health Organization now warns that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of all causes of mortality, doubling the incidence of heart disease and diabetes. Yep, sitting disease may be deadlier than smoking. Your company can reverse this. Start by creating rewards for venturing into the greenery with walking meetings and outdoor work on mobile devices. Then install standing and treadmill desks. Movement is health.

2) Quiet Time

In a multi-decade study spanning 15,000 participants, The University of Massachusetts Medical School indicates that meditation reduces the number of medical and psychological symptoms by more than 35%. Substantially more research has to be done on meditation, but the flurry of recent data suggests that “quiet time” reduces anxiety and depression, expands the ability to focus, and positively alters the structure of the brain. Offering daily meditation in your office, or dedicating time to individual practice, is the lowest-risk and least expensive of our suggestions.

3) Snacking to Health

Renowned and best-selling medical expert, Dr. Mark Hyman, advises people to “skip the vending machines.” It’s time for organizations to follow suit. No company is obligated to roll out convenient sugary snacks and drinks. Upgrade your vending machines to the healthiest alternative or abandon them. Fill the candy bowls with nuts and fruit. Replace the soda with flavored water. Bring in a nutritionist for a simple consult to implement a new strategy. You are not alone in facing this challenge. Even today’s most inspired employers — Google and Facebook — have too many employees sitting and eating high-sodium, high-sugar foods all day.

4) Core Strength in a Conference Room

For the last 25 years, employees have gone to work and gotten sicker. In the next quarter century, they’ll go to work to get healthy. In 2011, we hired our first full-time personal trainer at The Motley Fool. I wish we’d done so 15 years sooner. Today, Samantha Whiteside presides over yoga, HIIT workouts, Zumba, and strength classes in spaces across our office. She coaches our colleagues around the world via Skype. The net result is a convenient solution for our employees that yields higher productivity, lower health insurance costs, and greater levels of satisfaction. Hire a full-or part-time physical trainer; you’ll make back this investment quickly.

5) “Every Day is Saturday”

That’s exactly what CEO Ricardo Semler tells his 3,000 colleagues at Semco, among the most enlightened organizations in human history. Employees and their teams are liberated to define their work schedules. Parents have time for their families. Night owls can sleep late. Yogis hit the studio midday. Semco’s rate of employee turnover is less than 1% per year. Does that lead to organizational chaos and lax underperformance? Nope. Semco sales, earnings, and company valuation have stunningly outperformed for decades. To unleash the talent that will expand your company’s potential, you have to institute work schedules that are as flexible as possible.

Change, Or You Will Lose

These ideas may seem extreme, even ludicrous. But they’re already practiced somewhere, so they must be possible. Before you know it, they’ll be institutional imperatives. You won’t be able to hire and recruit the best talent unless they believe they’ll get healthier by working with you. If you find yourself nodding in agreement, consider emailing this article to your HR lead or CEO. Forward it to your friends. In fact, make a copy for your general counsel, too. At some point — as with the NFL — the data will lead to one conclusion. Your organization may face legal liability for not disclosing the risks of working there, then countering them.

But wait… what’s the sixth way to save our lives and our companies? You tell us in the comments area.