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Boost Your Employees’ Energy and Focus in 2011

Courtney Day, Tom Jordan

A man running with an EKG readout in the background.

We all understand that employee productivity boosts bottom line. It’s also well known how much of an impact sick days can have on production. But sick days are not the number one culprit when it comes to hampering employee output. The truth is we lose more employee man-hours from sluggish performance than from sick days.

Even our executives and leadership staff suffer from fatigue or lack of focus at times—and they should be our highest functioning team members! How much more debilitating is the “mid-shift droop” when it attacks our general work force? There is good news however—it’s beatable!

Production Comes From Energy

Your assembly lines or computers run because they are energized—and so do our bodies. To produce thoughts and actions we need two things: a reliable source of energy (nutrition), and an efficient system of delivery (cardiovascular function). Unlike a computer however, the human body has a third requirement—rest.

Most Employers Sabotage Their Own Work Force

Most of us wouldn’t try to power our lights, computers, and phone lines with a weak source of energy, yet we have junk food abundantly available to our most valuable assets, our employees. To further complicate matters, our employees are sedentary for the majority of the day which by itself slows circulation and impairs our nutrient delivery system (the heart). With unlimited access to poor nutrition, and no systematic programming to encourage physical activity, how can we expect employees to perform well in our fast paced, over-stressed-under-rested culture?

Breaks and vending machines are common to all jobs but as leaders, our responsibility lies in providing the types of breaks and access to the types of foods that will enhance health and performance rather than sabotage it. For sedentary employees this may mean incorporating active breaks to re-establish circulation and revitalize the brain, while physically active employees may need active down time to enhance overall performance.

What do your employees do on break?

Let’s look at what typical employees do with that break time. They head to the vending machine or the snack drawer and grab highly refined high-fat, high-sugar junk food snacks. This concentrated source of calories provides very quick rises in blood sugar with very little inclusion of nutrients vital to cognition or energy production. The end result is a crash in blood sugar a few hours later which is quickly followed by a crash in productivity.

From an activity standpoint, they typically go from sitting at their desk to sitting in the break room. We all know blood flow increases with movement but there is generally little encouragement for cerebral workers to take a brisk walk, do a few yoga poses or tai chi movements that would restart blood flow. Plus, with highly processed “junk foods” the circulatory system shunts blood from the brain and muscles to the stomach in an attempt to digest it.

Given the above metabolic burden our typical employee is imposing on their body, it’s no wonder that our “mid-shift droop” happens like clockwork, only to leave a big chunk of the workday rendered useless. But the damage doesn’t stop there… 

These lifestyle habits also happen to result in the “big ticket” medical items that affect the health of employees (Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, Hypertension, Orthopedic Disabilities, Cancer, and Depression—the number one disabler of U.S. employees).

So what can you as employers, HR directors and managers do to help in the year ahead? Here are some simple things you can do to improve your employees’ focus, energy and overall mental health:

#1: Kiss Your Vending Machines Goodbye

Frequent trips to the vending machine can strike your office like the plague. When your employees eat potato chips, doughnuts, candy, etc., they are depleting vital brain chemicals such as Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine which help stabilize energy and mood. Also, the saturated and trans fats found in junk food can cause fat build-up in the blood, which leads to higher blood pressure, clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart disease. And they cause blood sugar spikes that ultimately drain energy. The only people benefiting from the vending machines are the vendors.

#2: Supply Healthy Fuel

The first line of defense in boosting energy and focus isn’t prescribing anti-depressants or anxiety medications, it’s nutrition! Regular doses of high quality lean proteins, nutrient- dense fruits and veggies and healthy fats can do wonders for both emotional well-being and job performance. So the next time you decide to give your employees a treat, replace junk food with some of the following options:

  • Breakfast: Instead of doughnuts, stock your company’s kitchen with yogurt, fruit, whole wheat bagels or oatmeal. Starting the day off right can give the body a sustained release of blood sugar. Encourage your employees to eat a “heart healthy” breakfast.
  • Lunch: Avoid ordering from fast food restaurants for work lunches. Instead, choose low-calorie options that everyone can enjoy. Examples include grilled turkey burgers with fresh lettuce and tomato, grilled chicken salads with low-fat dressing, and low-calorie sandwich options like Subway or Jimmy Johns.
  • Snacks: Treat your employees with snacks that are high in fiber, such as granola bars, apples, and celery. Food that is high in fiber keeps your blood glucose levels from rising too fast. This means that your employees won’t feel hungry right after eating and will prevent them from overeating.

#3: Provide Time to do the Opposite of Their Jobs at Lunch and On Breaks

Although this may seem counter-intuitive, providing your employees with an adequate, guilt-free break allows for positive reinforcement and an increase in overall productivity. It also gives them a chance to recharge their batteries and come back to work refreshed and energized. During the break can also be a good time to provide a healthy snack. This way, your employees can rejuvenate both their mind and body.

If your employees have physical jobs provide restful breaks. This gives their muscles and joints time to recover and prepare to retackle the next bout of physicality. If on the other hand your employees sit at a desk or are in stagnant positions for long periods you should provide them with the opportunity to get a little physical. It restarts circulation and revitalizes their minds.

The Bottom Line: A little change can go a long way. Promoting small steps towards workplace wellness can net huge gains in performance, retention, and morale of the entire employee base.

About the Authors

Tom Jordan, M.S., R.D.

Tom Jordan is the wellness director at First Health Associates family medical center in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Jordan, a Registered Dietitian and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, oversees First Health Associates’ Corporate Wellness and Weight Management programs including the Largest Loser Fitness Challenge. He is a member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Association of Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists (SCAN). For more information, Tom Jordan can be reached at 847-593-3330 or online at www.FirstHealthAssociates.com

Courtney Day, M.S.

Courtney leads the Exercise Physiology Department at First Health Associates.   As an Exercise Physiologist and ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, she oversees the corporate fitness programs, weight management programs, and sports performance programs in conjunction with the First Health Wellness Department.   For more information, Courtney can be reached at 847-593-3330 or online at www.FHAWeightCenters.com.

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