Oct 25, 2012

Companies in California’s Silicon Valley are sending employees home with dinner and the cleaners to wash up afterward.

These perks aren’t reserved for the C-suite, either. At Evernote, every single employee gets their home cleaned twice a month for free. The Stanford school of Medicine is piloting a similar project, but they’vealso  tossed in in-home dinner delivery with the housecleaning. Companies like Genentech offer a variation on the theme.

“Where do I sign up?!” employees cry. “Are you kidding me?!” their employers respond. “We’re not in the Silicon Valley.”

That may be true, but these seemingly singular perks are worth a look, not a sneer from companies outside the Silicon Valley.

Why Jane can’t prioritize healthy actions

When I led a recent webinar for WorldatWork on tips, tools and techniques to boost employee wellness, I used a story about “Jane and the CEO” to convey what your typical employee’s up against these days. The story went something like this:

Jane’s your average employee. She works full-time, she’s married and she has two kids. Because she’s the sibling living closest to her aging mother, she’s the one who takes care of her. Jane’s a little overweight, and she’s dealing with a few chronic conditions including high cholesterol. Jane’s work has increased with the layoffs and reorgs she’s gone through. Having too much work leaves her glued to her chair, and once she does go home, she’s saddled with cooking and cleaning for her family before heading out to help her mom with the same.

Jane doesn’t have hordes of time to go to the gym or mentally unwind because she’s always on the go and grappling with what else is on her plate. She’s also stressed out trying to figure out how to stretch her stagnant salary among today’s bills and tomorrow’s needs. Basically, jane’s a fragile, ailing and distracted stress ball. She’s showing up at work, but she’s not performing optimally. And, she’s certainly not finding the time for or prioritizing healthy actions.”

Jane’s a fictional character, but she exists in these Silicon Valley organizations — and in yours. Her counterpart Joe lives there, too.

How home perks can refresh your employees

The distraction and the health implications brought on by today’s whirling dervish world is why these Silicon Valley companies are getting involved with employees’ household duties. The continuous sitting leads to a greater risk of diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and even an earlier death. The job of adult caregiver leads to more reports of depression and diabetes, and depression is the number one health care cost for employers. Stagnant wages lead to postponed health care.

The employers offering these life or home perks see that unloading employees refreshes them in all sorts of ways. Unburdened by the need to clean the house or think of what’s for dinner, employees can spend time on relationships and on themselves — activities that’ll build their health and well-being versus compete with it.

Now it’s unlikely that every company is suddenly going to send a cleaner to every employee’s home — Wouldn’t it be nice, though? — but the philosophy is one any company can adopt.

All it takes is asking: What gets in the way of employees and their families taking healthy steps, and how can we help?

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s free-range communication blog.

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