Sprint has a new campus in Overland Park, Kansas, that helps people lose weight. It encourages them to walk from the parking lot to their buildings and even engage in more frequent strolls throughout the 200 acre campus. It's all part of a growing movement where employers are finding that it pays off to help make their employees more healthy. I think this trend is accelerating and will prove to be a very smart trend, both in terms of employee health and productivity, but also in payoffs for the employers.
Allow me explain why. I've often said there's no such thing as mental health without physical health first, and I think this is especially relevant to the work environment. A person who suffers from physical health problems automatically has a diminished capacity for mental performance. I know that some people would argue with that, but in fact, a tremendous amount of evidence shows that body and mind are inseparable when it comes to health, and certainly outstanding nutrition, physical exercise, consumption of superfoods, and avoidance of certain food ingredients is well-known to enhance and support healthy brain function.
So, when an employer can make it convenient for employees to be healthier, that employer also receives a reward in terms of productivity and more capable employees. But the employee receives the biggest reward -- their own health. Because when an employee is healthy, they feel better about themselves, and they enjoy working more.
Unfortunately, so many of the workplaces in the United States and around the world are places that destroy human health. They use recirculated air, artificial fluorescent lighting, and fundamentally flawed designs of layout that stagnate creativity and essentially suppress the work of employees. In my own offices at Arial Software, I was able to get full-spectrum lighting installed, and was able to choose an office suite that brings in a large amount of natural light. So I'm one of those company CEOs that always looks out for the health interests of its employees and team members, but most companies aren't like that. They're far more interested in cutting costs than in providing natural light and healthy options for their employees.
The use of natural light can make a huge difference, not only in employee productivity, but also their attendance. When you bring in natural sunlight, you automatically help prevent clinical depression among your employee base. You will prevent osteoporosis and even help prevent breast cancer and prostate cancer in your employees. That's because natural sunlight is such a powerful healer -- in fact, I consider it an essential nutrient for human health. Employers would do well to bring in more natural sunlight into their buildings, even if they're only looking out for their own financial interests. Investing in natural lighting pays off.
What we really need in this country is a revolution in terms of the employer/employee relationships. In the past few decades, this has often been an adversarial relationship, where an employer viewed any benefit or enhancement to employees as being something that was a financial penalty to the employer. It was a win/lose situation. If we're going to fight obesity and prevent chronic disease in this nation, we're going to have to look at the workplace and initiate a changes in our culture where employers take on some responsibility for providing healthy options for their employees. I look at Japan, where many companies begin their day with a physical warm-up and stretching routine. In the United States we might think this is silly, but in fact the Japanese have it right: this kind of morning warm-up and flexibility habit results in enhanced health among the employees.
In the United States, however, too many people just lumber into their office chairs, then sit there in front of their computers for 8 hours a day, munching on snack foods and junk foods, then wondering why they go home and have all these health problems such as obesity or carpal tunnel syndrome. Well the answer is they're not engaging in healthy activities at work. So, the employer can make a huge difference here by encouraging employees to get out and take a walk, take a break, or get some natural sunlight on their skin. They can also provide options in terms of healthy nutrition by offering fruits and vegetables for employees to eat and making sure that there are no vending machines nearby that offer unhealthy processed foods or soft drinks. Instead, employees can be given options like juice drinks, bottled water, or fresh fruits and vegetables brought in on a daily basis.
I realize this is more expensive up front for the employer, but once again, the investment in your employees' health is more than enough justification for these upfront expenses. Let's face it: Americans spend 1/3 of their lives or more at their workplace. As a result, the workplace is a major influencing factor on the health of all Americans, and it is the workplace where we need to start making some long-term changes that support optimum health and prevent chronic disease.