The Power of Blue Zones in Business

In a world where business success is often measured by financial gains and market dominance, the concept of applying “Blue Zones” to a business can offer a refreshing perspective and benefits. Coined by Dan Buettner, Blue Zones are regions around the world where people live longer, healthier lives, often surpassing the global average by significant margins.

These Blue Zones can be found in Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. They have drawn attention for their unique lifestyle and share commonalities that extend beyond genetics. These include social cohesion, support networks, a sense of purpose and belonging, access to nature, low stress environment, movement and fresh foods. Interestingly, genetics are thought to account for only 20–30% of longevity. Therefore, these environmental commonalities are thought to play a huge role in determining your lifespan (Hjelmborg et al., 2006; Passarino et al., 2016).

So what if we could apply the principles of Blue Zones not just to our personal lives, but to our businesses as well? Imagine a workplace where employees thrive, productivity soars, and the bottom line flourishes. All while fostering a culture of health and wellbeing.

According to the 2023 GALLUP ‘State of the Global Workplace’ report only 23% of employees worldwide are ‘actively engaged’ in their jobs. In Europe this figure is only 13%. GALLUP estimates the annual cost to the global economy due to the lack of engagement to be $8.8 trillion USD, which is approximately 9% of the global GDP. Taking employee wellbeing seriously should not be misunderstood as a trend but as a critical factor in economic success.

Healthier and happier employees will take less time off sick, are at reduced risk of burnout, will be more productive, resulting in higher performance levels. Staff retention will be better and team collaboration will be at an all time high. Committing to employee wellbeing by trying to achieve Blue Zones in your company is an innovative way to approach staff wellbeing and could enhance your companies reputation, brand image and profits.

Create Blue Zones in Business

1. Education and Development

Blue Zones suggest that lifelong learning contributes to a longer and more fulfilling life. In Japan this principle is known as Shuhari. In the corporate world this means promoting continuous education and development for employees. This is relevant not only for keeping employees’ skills and knowledge up to date, but also for enhancing job satisfaction and loyalty (Noe et al., 2006). Training in human based skills such as emotional intelligence or personal development, is as important as continued professional development training. Investing in personal and professional development programs fuels a culture of learning and progressing. If employees feel they are gaining and developing, they are motivated to give back (Wiley & Kowske, 2011). Human based skills training is valued highly amongst individuals and is something we, at HumanOS, are constantly being asked to provide services and masterclasses around.

2. Sense of Purpose

Having a sense of purpose and community and feeling valued amongst others, scored very highly when comparing these Blue Zones. Companies can adopt this by involving their employees in their vision and strategy development. Employees who understand the purpose of their work can contribute better and are more motivated and productive (Grant, 2012). It’s important to highlight the individual contribution each employee can make to the development of the company. The Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’ is particularly helpful here, where individual life purpose is understood in connection with the purpose and intention of the corporation, the community and the environment. Organisations need to be ensuring a transparent and inclusive culture that openly communicates the organisation’s mission, goals, and how each employee’s role contributes to these objectives. Encouraging employee involvement in decision-making processes and recognising their contributions enhances their sense of value and belonging. Providing opportunities for professional growth and development that align with both the company’s objectives and the employees’ personal values fosters a deeper connection. Finally, ensuring that the company’s actions and policies reflect its stated values strengthens trust and alignment between employees and the organisation, leading to greater engagement and success.

3. Supportive and Positive Environment

Similarities amongst Blue Zones include people’s positivity towards life and one another. Companies can foster this principle by creating healthy work environments through health-conscious initiatives, flexible working hours, or putting a general emphasis on wellbeing (McGonagle et al., 2015). The biggest mistake companies make is praising employees for overworking. These longer, more strenuous hours may appear to be an advantage to companies in the short-term, but aren’t sustainable. This skewed work-life balance will result in lower job-satisfaction, unhappiness and less productive work. Instead employees should feel valued and their wellbeing supported. Focus on celebrating employee achievements and promoting open communication.

4. Social Connections

One of the key factors across Blue Zones is strong social connections. Companies benefit when they build a strong organisational culture that fosters collaboration and teamwork, creating a sense of unity that enhances employee engagement and ensures productivity (Edmans, 2012). Create a space that encourages collaboration and interaction amongst staff. ‘Moai’ is a practice in the Blue Zone in Okinawa. It means ‘shared hobbies of interest’. Moai can be encouraged through communal areas where staff can meet or by organising team building activities and social events to build bonds between team members and give people a further sense of satisfaction at work. Jon Clifton wrote a piece on ‘The Power of Work Friends’ in the Harvard Business Review (2022) which discusses how friendships within work make you happier, more productive and improves staff retention. It’s important to acknowledge that individuals’ social connections outside of work, with their loved ones, apply here too. Employers can encourage these through flexible working hours and ensuring employees are achieving work-life balance through hours worked. Trust your employees to manage their workload effectively while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

5. Natural Movement

A strong emphasis is placed on ‘natural movement’ in Blue Zones. Evidencing that a variety of fresh foods and moving around a lot throughout the day helps extend lifespan and overall happiness. Encourage movement in the workspace through standing or walking desks, fitness challenges, yoga or exercises classes or discounted gym memberships. Provide incentives for employees to stay active and prioritise their physical health. Nutritional education can be brought into this as part of a wider health scheme. It is crucial here you also ensure you provide employees with the time and space to engage with their personal health behaviours and habits, as and when works for them. There is little point in providing the above spaces or schemes if your team don’t have the time or energy to use them.

6. Natural Elements

Blue Zones are typically located in areas surrounded by natural beauty. The same concept can be applied to office design. Bringing in elements such as plants, natural light, and ergonomic furniture can create a more peaceful and natural workspace. Outdoor workspaces and views of nature may be able to be incorporated. Biophilic design has been shown to reduce stress, increase creativity, and improve overall wellbeing. Other ideas include walking meetings, flexible schedules that enable employees to spend more time outdoors during daylight hours and organising team-building activities that involve nature such as hiking, gardening or outdoor yoga.

Conclusion

In embracing the concept of creating Blue Zones within business, we not only redefine success but also prioritise the holistic wellbeing of employees. Blue Zones offer a blueprint for cultivating workplaces where individuals thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally. By integrating principles such as lifelong learning, a sense of purpose, supportive environments, social connections, natural movement, and elements of nature, we unlock potentials in individuals, driving innovation, collaboration, increased productivity and, ultimately, sustainable growth and profit. The result is not only a thriving workforce but also a more competitive and socially responsible company.

Investing in the wellbeing of your employees is not a tick-box exercise; it’s a strategy for long-term organisational success.

If you have any questions or need any support on this area contact us at info@humanos.co.uk

Olivia, HumanOS Senior Therapist 

References:

Edmans, A. (2012). The Link Between Job Satisfaction and Firm Value, With Implications for Corporate Social Responsibility. Academy of Management Perspectives.

Grant, A.M. (2012). Leading with Meaning: Beneficiary Contact, Prosocial Impact, and the Performance Effects of Transformational Leadership. Academy of Management Journal

Hjelmborg, J.V., Iachine, I., Skytthe, A., Vaupel, J.W., McGue, M., Koskenvuo, M., Kaprio, J., Pedersen, N.L. and Christensen, K., 2006. Genetic influence on human lifespan and longevity. Human genetics, 119, pp.312-321.

McGonagle, A. K., Beatty, J. E., & Joffe, R. (2015). Coaching for Workers with Chronic Illness: Evaluating an intervention. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Noe, R.A., Clarke, A.D. and Klein, H.J., 2014. Learning in the twenty-first-century workplace. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav., 1(1), pp.245-275.

Passarino, G., De Rango, F. and Montesanto, A., 2016. Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango. Immunity & Ageing, 13, pp.1-6.

Wiley, J. and Kowske, B., 2011. Respect: Delivering results by giving employees what they really want. John Wiley & Sons.