Healthy Lifestyle and Corporate Culture

Healthy Living and Working

Lifestyle-related behaviours such as diet, physical activity, tobacco use and stress exert a strong influence on health and well-being in all populations. Studies show that numerous diseases are caused by an "unhealthy" lifestyle. But lifestyle is not merely a private issue: Health-promoting workplaces as well as a supporting corporate culture have a significant effect on lower absenteeism rates, enlarged job satisfaction and improved organisational performance.

European enterprises are faced with increasing costs due to high absenteeism, and there is a growing interest in measures and concepts of workplace health promotion. The existing traditional programmes, however, which are generally focused on individual lifestyle risk behaviours such as inactivity, poor nutrition and smoking, only have little impact. This is why recent interventions have led to a more comprehensive approach that addresses both worker and organisational health, and which tends to effect behavioral change combined with improved working conditions and environments.

  • What can companies do to promote employees' healthy lifestyle?
  • What are the effects of successful interventions, and are there quantifiable economic benefits?
  • What can be done to maximize programme success?

The European Network Enterprise for Health (EfH) discussed these and other questions, and several companies presented their experiences with different health management programmes.

Practical Consequences

  • The promotion of a healthy lifestyle goes beyond education and changes in personal behaviour

Various aspects of lifestyle, for example physical exercise and nutrition, are influenced by the general circumstances of life and reflect behavioural patterns and attitudes of large population groups. As a key area of life, work can lead to less physical activity and the formation of unhealthy habits e.g. as a result of the rise in work intensification and growing mental demands. Companies can make a key contribution to this by integrating health enhancing programmes and measures into their general corporate policy and organisational development.

  • Companies should identify opportunities to design 'healthy' work and
    working environments in order to boost their own competitiveness

The advantages of a healthy lifestyle with regard to a higher quality of health and improved well-being are increasingly recognised as factors for enhanced achievement potential including better employment opportunities. Some companies facing the future with a larger proportion of older employees are already increasing their investment in incentives for healthy behaviour. On the one hand more people leading healthier lifestyles would help to improve productivity through increased efficiency and less absenteeism caused by illness whilst on the other it would have a positive impact on labour costs due to a reduction in social security costs. All of these are preconditions for safeguarding and expanding a company's competitive position.

  • Integrating programmes to promote a healthy lifestyle at the workplace into the corporate and cultural development

Health can no longer be reduced to a private matter where everyone has to look after himself at the end of a day's work. Health is now accepted as an important part of workability and employability and also dictates how well the demands for greater flexibility in the world of work can be met. This understanding can only lead to a "collective" lifestyle if the cultural conditions in the companies support this change. So for example healthy eating habits can be facilitated in the staff restaurant and healthy physical exercise can be integrated into everyday working life. The foundation for this is created by an employee-oriented design and organisation of work.

"Programmes based solely on behaviour usually fail, as people tend to revert to old behaviours when programmes are withdrawn." "The best programmes measure health conditions and interests, help people set goals, train them in the skills they need to improve health practices, and provide opportunities to maintain those behaviours."

Dr. Michael O'Donnell, American Journal of Health Promotion, Ohio, U.S.A.
(Keynote Speaker EfH Business Meeting "Healthy Lifestyle", May, 8 - 9, 2006, Valencia, Spain)

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