When I entered the workplace in 1980, an “employee wellness program” was considered unusual. Many companies probably thought they were downright frivolous and an exorbitant use of space and financial resources. In today’s business world, though, wellness programs are appreciated by employees and employers alike as vehicles for helping keep staff healthier and happier … and both anecdotal and statistical documentation back them up. (As a sort of ‘case study,’ we have included information from Athens-Clarke County Unified Government; the box below.)
Workplace wellness doesn’t have to mean on-site gyms and in-house personal trainers. Companies may be able to encourage healthy living and offer compelling perks to employees without spending a lot of money and time putting together a plan.
Here are some tips for businesses that want to start a with workplace wellness program:
Assess your vending machine offerings. Remove cookies, chips and candy. Replace them with protein bars, nuts, trail mix and other healthier treats.
Provide pedometers for every employee. These are relatively inexpensive, but they’ll go a long way in helping staff know how many steps they take each day. Companies routinely report that this alone encourages employees to increase their exercise level, just because they start doing their own comparisons! (Ask your insurance provider to provide the pedometers!)
Hand out educational pamphlets regarding lunch- and snack-time foods. You can even create a travel-sized guide to help staff make informed decisions before they select a fast-food restaurant for themselves or their families. One source for this type of information is http://www.calorieking.com.
Offer health-risk assessments. Your insurance company may even provide such assessments at little or no charge on your behalf. Sometimes they can be done online.
Review claims (anonymously, of course), and bring in guest presenters to address issues that you know are of interest to your employees. For instance, if you learn that 47% of your staff have blood-pressure problems, have a guest speaker talk to your staff about managing it, or host screeners from a local hospital or clinic. Or if, for instance, 24% of your employees are men in their 50s, you could consider covering prostate screenings.
The methods companies employ to promote and encourage participation in their wellness programs are varied and often quite creative. While many staffers will take part simply because it is a great idea and a wonderful benefit, others may need more incentive. Here are some ideas that have worked for businesses of all sizes and types:
Challenges between individuals or departments or even offices if the company has multiple locations
Contests that provide monetary or other rewards for the winners
Participation points that end with donations to employees’ favorite charities
Challenges that honor co-workers or family members who are dealing with specific health challenges
Employees who have participated in wellness programs agree that they are more productive and absent less, but that they have saved on healthcare costs, both as individuals and for the company. Programs that are especially appreciated are those that provide free or reduced-cost health assessments and programs for pregnant women, older men and those with high-risk genetic traits. They also indicate that when top executives and managers participate, other employees are more likely to as well.
Perhaps the most important stories employees have shared are the ones about times that diseases or other life-threatening conditions were found during wellness assessments, and lives were saved as a result.
For more information about workplace wellness programs, talk with your insurance provider or colleagues whose companies already offer such benefits.
The program was recommended in 2002. As of 2011, the program had grown and now includes the following:
Mission statement – Dedicated to enhancing the mind, body, and spirit of Athens-Clarke County employees and retirees
Goals – To improve employee health, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and manage health care costs
Targeted diseases and conditions – Cancer, cardiovascular disease (including high blood and high cholesterol), diabetes, back problems, obesity and tobacco use
Components of the program – Changing attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of risks through educational programs, changing through yearly screenings, etc. and changing health outcomes
Basic program components – Healthy hours, on-site flu vaccinations, health screenings, healthy weight contests, wellness fair and healthy activity reporting & rewards
Positive outcomes – Transitioning to a culture of total health and wellness resulting in positive changes in employee behavior, weight loss, healthy eating habits, increased water consumption and exercise, positive health changes at home, higher productivity levels, improved job satisfaction/improved employee morale and averted major medical issues/claims
Awards – Fit Friendly Award by the American Heart Association two years in a row; staff asked to present details and information about the ACC Wellness Program at the recent Health Benefits Conference; selected by Blue Cross Blue Shield to be highlighted in a wellness video to be used to promote wellness programs to other groups
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