Are You Endangering Your Employees’ Health?





With companies of all sizes seeking to cut healthcare costs and avoid penalties imposed by the Affordable Care Act, we’re hearing lots of news about instituting workplace wellness programs as a way to promote a healthier workforce.

Also gaining attention, workplace practices such as ergonomic office spaces, meditation, mid-day naps, standing desks and walking meetings are being put forth as ways to create a healthier workforce.

Healthier employees benefit business in many ways. They take fewer sick days, are more productive, visit the doctor less often and are less likely to have chronic health conditions that cause their and, in turn, your business’s health insurance rates to rise.

That’s why the news in a study from Employers, an insurance specialist, is so disheartening. It reports that small companies are less likely than big ones to promote healthy workplace practices. Specifically:

  • 77 percent of small businesses don’t offer employees non-traditional seating options such as stand-up desks, treadmill desks or balance balls
  • 29 percent of small business owners say their employees typically sit for more than an hour at a time during the workday

The study points out that jobs are becoming increasingly sedentary and notes research showing that sitting for too long at a time can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and other health problems.

Sure, providing treadmill desks for employees at a small business is asking for a lot. But there are plenty of lower-cost adjustable desk options that let employees choose whether to sit or stand.

Check out the popular Varidesk Pro, which is basically an adjustable stand that goes on top of an existing desk. Or try this $22 standing desk hack using Ikea parts.) Consider the greater productivity you could achieve when your employees are more alert and energized.

And without purchasing as much as a $20 balance ball, reminding everyone to get up and stretch once an hour via the intercom or an on-screen alert on their computers can make a huge difference in health and energy levels. (Check out Time Out or Break Reminder.)

Having dealt with several cases of worker’s compensation in my time as a manager, I was even more surprised that 42 percent of small businesses don’t provide monitor stands to create an ergonomic environment for employees whose primary work is done on computers. And 45 percent don’t encourage those employees to take regular “eye breaks” to rest their eyes.

Employees who work on computers most of the day should have the ergonomic equipment (desk chairs, keyboards, wrist rests and other devices) to provide a comfortable setting. Otherwise, their productivity will suffer and they could easily develop repetitive stress injuries that would rightly be cause for worker’s compensation claims.

Last, but not least, small employers are ignoring some basic mental and physical health issues for employees. Some one-fourth of hourly and salaried employees of small companies report going three or four hours without taking a break, while 42 percent don’t use their allotted time off each year.

Taking regular, short breaks is not only crucial to refreshing employee energy, preventing errors and possibly dangerous accidents, but also required by law for many workers. If you aren’t letting employees take breaks when they’re legally entitled, you could be setting yourself up for lawsuits.

Encouraging employees to use their time off has benefits for you and them, too. For one thing, when employees who never take time off finally quit, you could end up owing them a huge chunk of wages for the time off they didn’t use. In the shorter term, of course, you’re dealing with employees who are burned out and less effective because they’re not getting any downtime.

Ignoring employee wellness not only puts their health at risk, but puts your business at risk, too. That’s downright unhealthy, especially when the remedies are so easy.

Doctor Visit Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

One Reaction

  1. Aira Bongco

    I agree that some businesses are not as sensitive to the health needs of their employees. But it is not like they wanted to do that. Remember, that most small businesses work on a small budget so it is harder for them to spend more on their employees especially if they are barely getting by with their products and services.

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