By Chris Mittelstaedt
The health care debate continues to be long, contentious, and frustrating. Interestingly, in all the discussions, one important point seems minimized: what is the point of healthcare? What about being, or becoming, healthy so you need less health care? Less doctor appointments, less medications? In a world in which health costs are skyrocketing, HR managers are put in the position of having to think radically about not just providing benefits for employees but motivating healthy behaviors that can reduce the cost of these benefits. But how do you do it?
While health insurance is seen as a benefit, using incentives to encourage healthy behavior can be seen as big-brother tactics or even discrimination. Where is the line and how far can you push it? Can you force someone to quit smoking? Require them not to eat junk food? Require people to walk half an hour a day? How can you help people adapt healthier lifestyles—build a healthier workplace—without blurring the line between individual liberties and over-zealous employer control?
One way to accomplish this is to create a healthy work environment—from the top down, making positive change that incorporates fresh food, regular exercise, and stress reduction. Every company has the means—and the incentive—to do this. Here are four steps to help you get started.
It’s the environment:
The FruitGuys has been providing fresh fruit to office for more than a decade and has seen a lot of companies affect positive employee health changes. Over the years, we’ve defined four main areas that companies need to address in order to create a health-focused work environment and culture. Don’t worry if your organization doesn’t currently have a wellness program, all you need is leadership to create a workplace that values and encourages employee health.
1. Offer healthy opportunities. Examples could include: starting an office walking club; offering fresh fruit in your break room instead of junk food; charging for sodas but providing free water and herbal tea; holding brown bag lunch talks around health topics; allowing employees to purchase take-home produce through a home delivery company (such as The FruitGuys); partnering with a local gym to offer a discount for your employees; organizing regular 5-minute stress reduction breaks to practice breathing and yoga; developing a poster campaign to support employee health; bringing nutrition and diet programs on site; announcing initiatives to the staff; adding healthy facts to company emails and communications; developing a healthy rewards program for outstanding performance.
2. Make health a part of work culture. A great websites that offers resources on creating a healthy workplace is The Wellness Council of America. Their suggestion to get the attention of your C-level leadership is key to success. Having buy-in at the top of the organization makes a tremendous difference in affecting change at your workplace. A number of studies have found that work sites benefit from healthy employees. For example, a Duke University study published in 2007 found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, had higher medical costs, and missed more work days than non-obese workers .
3. Promote and inspire long-term engagement. Beyond internal communications, there are also websites that leverage social networking as a path to better employee health. Shape the Nation is a company that has applied social networking to worksite wellness challenges, such as fitness goals. Innovative approaches such as this can help employees track their own results and foster participation while engaging in a competitive environment.
4. Monitor and demonstrate results. Reporting results back to your C-team to demonstrate ROI will be important. Remember to keep in mind that depending on the programs you choose, your metrics will vary. In the short term, tracking walked miles, weight lost, number of participants who started and ended the program, important milestones, and even personal success stories will help to reinforce the value of your wellness program. ROI on long-term cost of a wellness program depends on C-level commitment.