The United States is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world. Lifestyle challenges, including obesity and physical inactivity, have contributed to increased utilization of our health care system. Moreover, scientific advancements ensure that Americans using the health care system are living longer. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 75 percent of an employer’s health care costs and productivity losses are related to employee lifestyle choices. Are there benefits in corporate gardening?
Savvy companies have implemented corporate wellness programs to combat rising health care costs. Over the last ten years, companies of all sizes have benefited from the positive return on investment that corporate wellness programs can provide. The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) estimates that for every $1 spent on comprehensive wellness programs, companies can expect an average return of about $3 resulting from reduced employee absenteeism as well as fewer workers’ compensation and health insurance claims. Despite the challenge of the current economic climate, WELCOA reports that more than 81 percent of American companies with 50 or more employees have some form of health promotion program.
Conventional corporate wellness program shortcomings
It’s evident that corporate wellness is a fitting, and near requisite, approach to combating health care costs. Unfortunately, many corporations go for the low-hanging fruit and don’t commit to a fully-integrated approach. The most popular conventional wellness programs address physical activity, smoking cessation, back care, and stress management. Many of these programs incentivize “one and done” activities driven from the top down. Conversely, a successful program must include customized, integrated, comprehensive, diversified programs strongly linked to the corporate business strategy and be supported (not enforced) by senior leadership and managers.
Recent studies have shown the “carrot and stick” programs pushed on employees by upper management do not result in long-term behavior changes. It’s the employee-driven, grassroots wellness programs that are far more effective, in terms of both participation and return on investment. This is because, in order to adopt permanent lifestyle changes, employees need the tools, support, and resources to empower them to take personal responsibility for their own health and well-being. Grassroots employee participation is what drives behavior change and the only true way to achieve the coveted “culture of wellness.”
Corporate gardening as a timely and sustainable wellness strategy
Three themes are setting the stage to turn a spark of a trend toward corporate gardening into a full-blown explosion of interest. 1) with health care reform beckoning, Corporate America’s need for a lucrative wellness solution is palatable, 2) there has been a sharp rise in backyard edible gardening fueled by the local-food movement and concerns about food safety and the environment, and 3) many companies are now focused on environmental stewardship and greening their businesses. This trifecta phenomenon has created a perfect storm of need for the right resource at the right time.
The act of gardening, itself, is a comprehensive wellness program that effortlessly offers dynamic physical activity, creative expression, emotional reward, an enhanced connection with nature, a sense of environmental stewardship, nutritional awareness, and the satisfaction of cooking with the organic fruits of one’s own labor. Corporate gardening is an inexpensive corporate wellness solution, an enjoyable employee perk that boosts morale, while also helping employees (and their families) be healthier. It’s a win-win-win.
In May 2010 The New York Times was the first to publish an article highlighting gardening as a corporate benefit. The article profiled the emerging trend in corporate gardens at major companies like Google, Yahoo, Kohl’s, Target, PepsiCo, Aveda, Best Buy, Intel, and Toyota, among others. To date, there is little data available capturing the number of existing corporate gardens or the associated return on investment. Regardless, dozens of companies have installed gardens within the last two years or are making plans to get started and will dig in soon.
It’s becoming so popular in fact, that Human Resource Executive magazine named an employer-sponsored garden as one of the top five employee benefits of 2010. Corporate gardening also provides companies with subsidiary “green initiative” and “local food donation” public relations perks, as well.
Employee benefits include:
- Nutritional Awareness
Employees learn to grow and eat fresh vegetables, are motivated to cook more at home and eat less fast food. They will eat more produce not exposed to chemicals and use herbs in recipes resulting in less salt and refined sugar intake.
- Physical Health
Employees enjoy an ergonomic break from their desk, will increase caloric expenditure, produce Vitamin D, and practice core stabilization and increase flexibility.
- Mental Health
Employees receive a mental break therefore reducing stress and anxiety, experience positive social interaction, partner with fellow employees, and experience a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Increase overall activity, instill healthier eating habits, ultimately manage weight, decrease stress, and improve general well-being.
Employees can trade or share the harvest amongst themselves, or donate the harvest to community organizations.
Ready to implement an employee garden? Contact Stacy Walters at email@example.com for more information!