When employees are worried about losing their jobs, health concerns quickly drop down the priority ladder.
Earlier this year, Towers Watson surveyed 3,000 employees about their employers’ health care programs and found a significant decrease in workers’ focus on their own health during the last two years. Only 59 percent of respondents said that managing their health was a top priority, compared with 69 percent in 2008. Only one in five said they were using wellness programs designed to help them lose weight or stop smoking, for example, compared with one in four in 2008.
The reasons are simple: employees are seriously stressed out and might not feel as if they have the time to exercise and take care of themselves. Many have longer commutes and feel they have to be in touch with their employer all the time. The survey also suggests that employees who are in the poorest health tend to be the most critical of the employer health programs.
It’s true that getting employees to focus on their health can be challenging even in the best of times. In an uncertain economy, employees view it as one more burden that they have to manage, often at the expense of their health. Unfortunately, this burden goes beyond finding time to exercise. During a tough economy, employees often work multiple jobs to keep up with bills or work hard to save money in case they lose their job.
Sadly, it’s much easier and less expensive in the short term to live an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s cheaper to feed a family at a fast-food restaurant than to buy a balanced diet of healthy fruits, vegetables, meat and fish at the grocery store. And it’s even more expensive to buy those items produced organically or from a sustainable farm.
On top of that, there’s the time crunch: working parents barely have time to spend with their children during the week, let alone find time to exercise. It’s a vicious cycle that people get trapped in and there’s no easy answer for turning it around. However, with a little planning and commitment, it’s possible to get back on track. Below are a few ideas to try:
- Involve the kids in an exercise program so that it serves double duty as a family activity and health regimen
- Grow a garden with fresh fruits and vegetables. This can be a low-cost way to grow your own produce organically and is a great learning experience for the kids to join in.
- Start a CSA purchasing group at work. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a great way for you to buy directly from a local farm; if several co-workers join in, they may even deliver for free. This not only saves money but time.
- Plan out a week’s worth of meals over the weekend and gear them around sale items at the grocery store. If possible, make some items in advance and you’ll have more time after work to spend with the family rather than cooking. Even better, involve the kids in cooking dinner and make it a family activity.