by Michael Heinrich, Founder and CEO of Oh My Green
More often than not, the words “start up culture” conjure up a very specific image in people’s minds: late nights at the office, lots of coffee and Red Bull, pizza boxes under the desks. In other words, an environment where people are just so committed to the work, that nothing else matters. Who needs rest, social relationships, proper nutrition, and exercise? All of that can wait, right?
But can it?
As someone who has experienced more than a few office cultures like the one described above, I’m here to tell you that the “work as hard as possible” ethos that seems pervasive — not just in Silicon Valley, but throughout much of the corporate world — is not just wrong, it’s counter productive. Tired, stressed, unhealthy people are not going to perform at their best. They’re not going to come to work with creative ideas and focused minds. (In fact, I was shocked to learn in Jeffrey Pfeffer’s recent book, “Dying for a Paycheck” that the workplace is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.) This state of affairs not only led me to found a company, Oh My Green, that’s exclusively focused on health and wellness in the workplace, but also to develop a new approach to leadership — one that inspires people to bring their best selves (instead of their most stressed selves) to work.
The foundation for my leadership approach is balance — when we focus on taking better care of the body, mind and environment at work, engagement, inspiration and productivity will follow. The idea is to do less and accomplish more vs. do more and accomplish less. (The latter seems unfortunately more common in today’s corporate environments).
Let’s take a closer look at how a company benefits from ensuring that these three critical elements of a healthy workplace culture are in alignment:
Over the past ten years, chronic disease has increased by 25 percent in working-age adults, and the CDC estimates that productivity losses due to missed work costs employers $225.8 billion, or $1,685 per employee, annually. And while there are a number of factors that impact health, nutrition is a big one: A recent study published in the British journal The Lancet and reported in the New York Times found that “one-fifth of deaths around the world were associated with poor diets–defined as those short on fresh vegetables, seeds and nuts but heavy in sugar, salt and trans fats.”
Unfortunately, the foods people typically get at work — sugary sodas and ultra-processed snacks — often fall into the unhealthy category. Considering that people spend more than 50 percent of their time and consume more than 70 percent of their calories at the office, it’s critical that business leaders do more to support better nutrition for their employees. There’s an array of actions that workplaces can take to do this — from offering free, healthier break-room options (sparkling water instead of sodas, for instance, or more fresh fruits and vegetables) all the way up to providing fully catered lunches that focus on whole foods and organic ingredients.
Beyond diet, things like on-site fitness classes, subsidized gym memberships, standing desks and even scheduling walking meetings can encourage people to integrate more physical activity into their work days.
Mental health is just as important as physical health — in fact, the mind and body are deeply connected. But the problem is, when people are burning the candle at both ends, they tend to ignore their mental health even more than they ignore their physical health. Modern office environments can easily devolve into whirlpools of stress and distraction. All too often, we mistake constant activity — multi-tasking and overscheduling — with true productivity.
First, encourage employees to get good sleep — a tired mind is not a productive one. Meditation (especially evidence based meditation like transcendental meditation and mindfulness) is an excellent productivity tool that can be used to help your team counteract the challenges of information overload and burnout, empowering them with the mental composure they need to think through problems and focus on what really matters the most.
Personally, being introduced to transcendental meditation has changed my life: by meditating two times a day, I am much better able to think strategically about key priorities. Now, our entire office does so as well, and it really helps to keep us centered on our goals and creates an atmosphere of joy and calm.
Finally, leaders should want their offices to be spaces where people are happy to spend their time, not ones where they are eager to leave. Environmental factors like air quality, lighting, ergonomics and office design can all play important roles in boosting employees’ moods, preventing health problems and injuries and even in sparking greater creativity.
For example, a study done at Cornell University on natural light in the workplace (reported by NBC News) showed that “workers seated by a window that optimized natural light reported an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision.” Natural light was also shown to boost productivity and decrease drowsiness. NBC News additionally reported that indoor plants, images of natural scenery and other sensory elements that put people in touch with nature increased motivation and reduced stress.
These may seem like small things, but all can contribute to a workplace environment that instead of draining people, inspires them. And inspiration is important — according to a Bain study, inspired employees are 2.25x more productive than those who are simply “satisfied”.
While a start-up culture prioritizing health, wellness and, yes, happiness, may sound like a fantasy to some, there’s solid research to back up the business benefits: The CDC has found that improvements in physical, mental and emotional health enhance stamina, concentration and focus, and the World Health Organization estimates adequate nutrition can increase productivity by an average of 20 percent, just to name a few stats.
We’ve seen these kinds of benefits first hand at Oh My Green. Our workforce is motivated and engaged, and we’ve realized nearly 18 percent growth, month over month, since the company’s inception. We spend more time properly preplanning and less time fixing mistakes, which has been critical in our growth trajectory. Most importantly, our team hasn’t had to burn themselves out to achieve this success.
Michael Heinrich is founder and CEO of Oh My Green, a concierge-style provider of healthy food and wellness services for corporations of all sizes. Oh My Green was inspired by Michael’s grandma, who always taught him the importance of healthy eating, as well as his desire to upend the not-so-great habits of today’s workaholic culture. Now dedicated to helping companies create workplaces that are inspiring and blissful, Michael credits meditation, nutritious food and a healthy sense of humor to his own happiness at work.