The explanation most employers give for ordering employees to return to the office is that when employees have serendipitous conversations in the hallway, the company makes more money. Since it’s hard to measure serendipity, no one can say whether this is true or not.
On the other hand, one very measurable metric is an employer’s healthcare costs. In fact, about two-thirds of all U.S. employers are self-insured, meaning the employer pays every dollar of an employee’s medical benefits. Sicker employees mean more expenses.
Here are some ways the office impacts employee health.
At home, employees can work by windows, take meaningful breaks outside, and align their workday with daylight. At the office, you’re buried deep in a cubicle farm or trapped in an interior conference room, all while being pummeled by harsh florescent lights. The office environment scrambles the circadian cycle of bright days and dark nights. You get disrupted sleep, depleted vitamin D, and metabolic problems.
Fun fact: Sun exposure is more important than the gym for losing weight.
Butts in Seats
Sitting is the new smoking, and lengthy commutes mean more cigarettes. In addition, the office workstation can be physically uncomfortable, with necks straining to view poorly positioned monitors, or shoulders hunched over laptops. Low back problems, neck pain, and posture issues transfer massive amounts of cash from company coffers to orthopedists, chiropractors, and physical therapists.
The office can be a stressful place. You lose your connection to nature, the comforts of home, and your privacy. TikTok videos of unstable employees demolishing printers and computers are relatable and amusing, but most employees suffer in silence. Chronic stress causes depression, cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, weak immune systems, weight gain, skin conditions, and migraines. I count seven medical specialties/specialists ready to sweep up company cash.
Additionally, when you’re stressed, your body uses cortisol to produce sugar even in the absence of food (gluconeogenesis). Chronic stress raises blood sugar levels and can contribute to insulin resistance.
My feet are killing me
When companies began their return to office campaigns, foot & ankle specialists and podiatrists rejoiced. The office uniform requires men and women to don footwear that crushes their feet. Nothing good comes from wearing dress shoes for 8+ hours daily.
An executive once told me she wanted to do intermittent fasting, but found it impossible in her role. Five days a week, she spent her lunch hour at a meeting or a networking function or a team event that revolved around food.
Then there’s the office problem of junk food everywhere. Go-getters are excited to share their box of fresh donuts; well-meaning folks leave desserts from last night’s house party in the breakroom; leftovers from a catered department meeting are offered to all. There are birthday cakes and vending machines and quick trips to Starbucks for toxic sugar bombs. For employees without strong discipline and food-consciousness, office life is a case study in mindless eating — and all the consequences that go with it.
I’d love to see stats on how the return to office push has impacted company health care costs. I bet they’re way up.