Years ago I learned of a company CEO who stopped all overtime except if it was approved by his office. Within in three months absenteeism, sick leave and tardiness declined by 30% across the board. Just this last year I was asked to speak about nutrition and health to employees of a media company, but advised that I shouldn’t address the 14-16 hours days they usually worked. Most employees know when they are being toyed with, and I declined the invitation. Today stress and the cost to business is getting prime time exposure.
Ariana Huffington reports that corporate CEO’s are finally connecting the dots between stress and the bottom line. I found myself both cheering and jeering at the same time. It seems that mindfulness and yoga are the hot buzz words in corporate culture with studies showing reduced absenteeism, sick leave and other indirect costs, costs that are 200-300% higher than actual health care bills. It’s time the business minds paid attention–but I don’t trust that their attention is what it needs to be.
It is too easy to encourage workers to take a few yoga classes or meditate for a few minutes on company time–and then have them return to unreasonable work loads and a corporate culture that encourages excessively long work days, working after hours and plugging in on vacation. Where is the time for preparing healthful meals, engaging in regular physical exercise and other core ingredients of good health when everyone is working 10-12 hours days on top of a 1-2 hour commute?
And then there is that issue with outsourcing and job insecurity all the while corporate practices hold cash in foreign subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes for the very services their communities need. Most Americans experience considerable stress as their quality of life continues to deteriorate–just as the executive office continues to reap the rewards of reigning in costs and driving profits. The disconnect is obscene and more so all the time. Yoga and mindfulness can’t fix that. So, if corporations are serious about reducing both the direct and indirect costs of health care, I have a few questions to ask each CEO, their board of advisers, and anyone looking for greater and greater returns on their investments:
1. Are efforts to address stress in the workplace serious or just paying lip service?
2. Can yoga and mindfulness really trump low wages, obscene workloads, job insecurity, and the incessant drive for profits over people ?
3. When will CEO’s and their boards stop sucking more and more of the profits into their own pockets and support their workers in materially meaningful ways?
4. Is “Work/life balance” a misnomer?
While you ponder these questions, you may want to read this article and watch this video and consider what it means for every one of your employees, everyone who lives in your community, and the overall health of this nation when corporate policies continue to drive inequality. We have only one life. It doesn’t matter how much CEO’s talk about mindfulness or a work/life balance. Employees won’t have a balanced life when work–and the effort to hang on to one’s standard of living–saps most of their space, time and energy.