Working Well

Benefits Round-up: The Newest Epidemic, Blood Drives and Forest Bathing

A recap of wellness and benefits stories making the rounds lately.

I’ve come across a few news stories this week regarding health and wellness. Feel free to contact me or comment below if you have other important benefits stories worth sharing.

Loneliness: Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy wrote a long, fascinating cover story for the Harvard Business Review. “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness,” he wrote. “If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society.” I’d strongly recommend reading the whole thing, along with this Washington Post Q&A, which gives you even more insight on Murthy’s experience, research and passion on this topic.

There were many important points he made, but I’ll focus on just one. “Traditionally anything related to our mental or psychological state has been looked at as a choice. This is a real challenge,” he wrote, acknowledging the trickiness of a non-physical public health crisis. If people can’t see it, they may not be able to take it seriously.

This is relevant because the topics of more “invisible” health crises like loneliness or mental health problems have been gaining steam recently. As many advocates as there are for these causes, I’m expecting to see people equally vocal about dismissing them. My colleagues and I have been hearing about the seriousness of loneliness in the workplace for months, and now it’s obviously in the public health sphere as well.

Loneliness can have many internal and external causes, and its impact on the workplace can be palpable, according to Murthy’s story. Treating invisible crises with the same urgency with which we treat the more tangible, physical and noticeable ones is the right move to make in both the corporate and the public space.

Employers that treat these non-physical ailments as a choice are in for a cruel wake-up call when they eventually see the impact it can have on their workplace and their employees.

View from the Illinois River from the Starved Rock Lookout Point at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois; Fresh Air; Forest Bathing

Forest bathing is “basically just being in the presence of trees.” This is the view of the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Photo by Andie Burjek.

There Will Be Blood … Maybe?: A recent Washington Post article cited that after disasters, people make an extra effort to donate blood, but not during the rest of the year. As there have been many disasters in the news recently, this caught my attention and made me wonder what companies are doing. That is, given the recent rise of corporate citizenship, are there companies that have blood drives as a pet project? If so, what can other companies do to push forward this need?

I’m admittedly biased with this topic. In my two-hour breaks between some classes in college, I’d try to make a point to donate blood and got the chance to chat with many Red Cross employees. They very quickly motivated me to keep on going. It was always a relatively short endeavor, the employees were always informative and personable, and going semi-regularly reduced my fear of needles (although I still managed to almost pass out last time).

This topic, I believe, fits into the larger discussion of employee motivation. Usually I’ve heard about the challenge of motivating employees toward a certain behavior when it comes to behaviors related to health care costs. We want Employee X to take more steps or stop smoking because overweight employees/employees who smoke drive up health care costs.But what about motivating employees to practice behaviors that don’t impact their wallet or the company’s pocketbook? I’ve been hearing more about social well-being, corporate citizenship and similar topics recently, and I’m curious if the science of motivation is different for those behaviors that don’t directly impact you.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this topic, feel free to reach out to me or comment below.

Meditation Outdoors Shot in the Fall, Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL

Being around nature is good for your well-being. This is a picture from the Morton Arboretum, a public garden in Lisle, IL, last autumn. Photo by Andie Burjek.

Forest Bathing: I got an email from my father recently, subject line: “Cool HR story!” This story on forest bathing, “basically just being in the presence of trees,” technically wasn’t an HR story, it did provide a few lessons worth sharing. It also supported an idea that somebody shared with me in a past story, that being around nature is good for your well-being, even through small acts like taking a walk outside at lunch or having a plant on your desk.

Apparently between 2004 and 2012, Japanese officials conducted a $4 million study on forest bathing and its physiological and psychological effects. The study concluded that “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” according to the article.

View from Picnic Point, Madison, Wisconsin at Midnight

Another example of fresh air and forest bathing. This view is from Picnic Point, a nature preserve in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Andie Burjek.

Overall, this article is a good reminder that you should occasionally get off your phone and computer and let yourself have some distraction-free time in the fresh air. This is probably not the reality of many people’s work days, but maybe it should be.

Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to my colleague Lauren Dixon who recently wrote an article called “Is Employee Health Company Business?” for Workforce’s sister publication Talent Economy. It’s a totally fair question. Under this blog, I generally act under the assumption that employee health is kind of company business, but it’s interesting to read the other arguments and viewpoints out there.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorTo comment email editors@workforce.com.