With recent health legislature and Obamacare fully enacted, more employers now required to offer health insurance coverage to their employees, there's a growing push for employees to get and stay healthy. According to The Wall Street Journal, approximately 90 percent of all employers offer some type of incentive for employees to improve their overall physical health, ranging from gift certificates to local businesses to reductions in health insurance premiums. Not only does encouraging employees to live healthier lifestyles benefit businesses in terms of insurance costs, it also boosts productivity. In one study of a major manufacturing company, chronic health conditions were determined reduce work productivity by as much as 37 percent, thanks to missed work, decreased ability to function, and distractions created by the conditions. The increased focus on wellness has led many companies to hire directors of health services or engage health and wellness services for their employees, but for those companies that do not have the budget to hire dedicated personnel, there are some easy changes that can be made to the work environment to improve employee health. Many of these changes do not require spending large amount of money or making wholesale changes to the working environment, but they can have measurable results on your employees' health and your overall bottom line.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that tobacco use costs employers almost $200 billion per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity. Smoking is a risk factor in almost every chronic condition, including cancer and heart disease, and second-hand smoke is proven to increase health risks for non-smokers. In short, there is no reason that employers should allow smoking on their property, and the CDC recommends that companies ban tobacco use in buildings, on company grounds, and in company-owned vehicles. In fact, smoking bans have been shown to increase the number of people who quit smoking or reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke each day while also lowering non-smoker’s exposure to second-hand smoke by more than 70 percent. A smoking ban may be met with some resistance, but a firm policy combined with access to smoking-cessation resources (the American Lung Association, the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free America, and most state offer free or low-cost programs for people who want to quit) is one of the best ways to improve the overall health of your employees.
Exercise is vital for good health, but many adults struggle to squeeze in their workouts each day. Employers can help by making exercise part of the culture. Onsite workout facilities or subsidized gym memberships are great, but they come with substantial costs and do not solve the time problem. Instead, establish a lunch hour walking club, or encourage employees to use their break time to walk; you might even offer suggested routes that will help employees traverse a specific distance. Install bicycle racks near the building to encourage another form of commuting. Make it easy for your workers to get in at least a few short bursts of exercise each day, and you’ll see improvement in their health.
Bring in the Experts
Having in-house wellness experts to assist and educate employees on their path to wellness is ideal, but even if you don’t have those resources, you can get expert help. You can find experts in a number of areas. For example, your insurance company may offer the services of a nurse or health advisor to provide health assessments and/or educational sessions to identify and mitigate health risks. Try organizing a series of “Lunch and Learn” events where employees can learn more about different ways to get healthy or alternative health. In fact, some companies even contract with local massage therapists, Reiki healers, acupuncturists, and other complementary medicine practitioners to provide services throughout the workday; in most cases, practitioners offer discounted rates that employees pay out of pocket.
Support Each Other
Employees can be each other’s greatest supporters and effective teachers, so encourage them to help keep each other on the path to wellness. Try organizing a healthy potluck, in which employees share their favorite healthy recipes with the office. Weight loss or fitness challenges, sports leagues, and even training groups for fitness events or fundraising walks or runs build team camaraderie while improving wellness. A comprehensive employee wellness program doesn’t have to be a complex or expensive or even a formal program. With some small changes to the workplace that encourage wellness and focus on improving and maintaining good health, even the smallest business can enjoy the benefits of a healthier workforce.