It could be that this apparent neglect of employee health is caused by the prevailing economic gloom and general reluctance to spend money in areas that old-fashioned bosses might consider ‘fluffy’. If so, it’s a classic example of short-termism, or plain narrow-mindedness. Any enlightened employer should accept that employee health is only going to become even more important, and avoidable factors like poor diet, rising stress and all-round poor health can all eat into your bottom line.
Maybe such people are more susceptible to the competitive argument: in your search to enlist top talent, can you afford to be so easily outbid by a rival who offers the corporate equivalent of a backrub and a detox session?
There are times, however, when we become overloaded with propaganda about exercise and healthy eating. It is not the whole picture, after all. In my view, being fit for work means a lot more than working out at the gym a couple of times a week, or eating fresh vegetables.
Above all, it means achieving a suitable balance in life – and everyone finds their equilibrium in different ways. I will happily admit that I find gyms boring, so that kind of exercise doesn’t work for me. I prefer tennis or sailing. And although mental and physical well-being go together to a certain extent, I’m probably more interested in the mental side.
In this respect Eastern cultures have a lot to teach us. From Confucius to Gandhi and up to the present day, Eastern philosophers have reminded us what we can achieve by allowing ourselves time for contemplation. The practice of yoga is an example of the way this approach has been incorporated into the health regimes of successful business people. Yet too many people concentrate on the simple mechanics of it – the sun salutation, the various positions, the breathing routines – when it is the mental state that matters most.
There was a Chinese writer called Lin Yutang who spent much of his later life in the United States and acquired a worldwide following in the mid 20thcentury with his updated brand of Confucianism, mixing Eastern philosophy with Western humour. Among his many aphorisms, he suggested that: “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
I can think of a lot of exercise freaks with their lycra gear, heart monitors and ever more elaborate equipment who might do well to ponder such ideas. It’s one reason why I don’t believe in being too prescriptive when it comes to health. Give people the opportunity to exercise, by all means. But above all, give them time to think.
Mark Dixon is founder and CEO of Regus.
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