Employee wellness is becoming a topic of focus as headlines and our insurance premiums are making it painfully obvious: healthcare costs are increasing, in part to our increasing waistlines. And while employee wellness is a difficult and delicate issue to handle, it should not be ignored. According to the American Journal of Health Promotion, an employee that is morbidly obese will cost the employer more than $4,000 per year over the amount of a normal weight employee. An employee that is normal weight will cost a company on average around $3,800 per year compared to a morbidly obese person costing an employer around $8,000 per year. Obese employees will potentially have diabetes, high blood pressure, and various other health problems. Furthermore, unhealthy workers require more medical care, take more sick days and are less productive on the job.
Employee Wellness: What Can Be Done?
This harsh reality can be hard to hear, but there is reason to have some hope that employee wellness can improve. The rise in obesity rates and healthcare costs in the U.S. has companies looking for means to keep their costs down. One way businesses are doing that is implementing employee wellness programs. These programs help employees get more focused on moving and the benefits of such programs are profound. The World Health Organization said, “Workplace physical activity programs in the USA has reduced short-term sick leave by 6 to 32 percent, reduced health care costs by 20 to 55 percent, and increased productivity by 2 to 52 percent.”
Most employee wellness programs increase their overall wellness, both physically and emotionally. So while employers are adopting wellness promotion programs and incentives aimed at helping employees live a healthy and active lifestyle, they also include depression and stress management as well. These benefits of increased productivity, less sick days, and reduced health care costs are not only a win for the company, but for the employee too.
Employee Wellness: Small Changes
Across the country, companies are making some small but significant changes that make is easier for employee wellness to improve:
- Healthy vending machines. The vending machines can have nuts, fresh, dried, or canned fruits, 100% vegetable or fruit juice.
- Provide healthy cafeteria options like a salad bar and include the nutritional ratings of the menu items.
- Change snack room foods from donuts to whole grain bagels and change soda to 100% fruit or vegetable juice.
- Companies can provide a healthy meal to their employees for a pre-tax deduction that can be taken out of their pay check.
- Allow for longer lunch breaks for physical activity.
- Adapt partnerships with healthy local restaurants and provide employees with a discount.
- Provide a secure and safe way for employees to bike, walk, or get to work and have access to a shower facility once at work.
If you haven’t seen changes like this in your workplace, it’s worth talking to Human Resources to suggest some changes. Additionally, there may be employee wellness programs available that somehow had escaped your attention.
Employee Wellness: What I’m Doing
I work for a construction company and most of our employees are active all day, building bridges. I always thought trying to implement an employee wellness program or a healthy living incentive would not be very beneficial. Either that or the employees would not understand why they need to live a healthy life when they are out doing physical work all day.
My mind was changed however when I was at an event for construction companies. As I was talking about employee wellness and the importance of a healthy workplace (somehow, I always end up talking about fitness and healthy living everywhere I go!) with an owner of another construction company, he was very excited and proud to tell me his company just became a Blue Zone Certified workplace. I had not heard of the Blue Zone Workplace certification and was intrigued. He explained to me that as part of the Blue Zone Employee Wellness program, the employees work with a wellness coach, have regular wellness checkups, are provided education opportunities about healthy living, and given various options to promote living a healthy lifestyle in the workplace.
What stood out to me the most when I was talking to him was that he was surprised by his own health when he had a wellness checkup. He thought he was in good health and didn’t need to change anything, but he found out his cholesterol was high and needed change his eating habits. If people in our workplaces are unaware of what their health really looks like, meeting with a wellness coach will be eye-opening. We do not know what we don’t know! Employee wellness begins by educating people about how to live a healthy life and giving them the tools to help them increase their health will really benefit both the employee and the employer.
Since I had not heard much about the Blue Zone Workplace I wanted to know more. I found out it is a challenge Iowa began in 2011 in an effort to become the healthiest state by 2016. So, in order for Iowa to be the healthiest state in the nation, all of Iowa has to work together and make small changes. When the Blue Zone Project started, Iowa was ranked 16th healthiest and in 2012 it was ranked 9th and then moved back to 16th in 2014. However, Iowa is not giving up because the Blue Zone Workplace’s goal is, “Empowering employees to be happier, healthier, and more productive by creating healthier work environments.”
Even though you might not live in Iowa, working together in our workplaces and communities to make small changes to live happier and healthier lives will create big changes over time! And even if you’re already pretty healthy, don’t assume you know about all the programs out there. I consider myself pretty fit and knowledgeable about fitness, and Blue Zone was totally new to me. And now, just learning about the Blue Zone workplace initiative in Iowa has inspired me to talk to the owners of my company to potentially work towards a Blue Zone workplace!
Employee Wellness: Conclusion
So concerning employee wellness, my parting advice is two-fold. First of all, inquire about what employee wellness programs are available to you at your workplace. You might be surprised at what your company has to offer. And secondly, if your company doesn’t have an employee wellness program in place, ask about the potential of starting something. You might be surprised at what lengths your company will go to in order get its employees healthier. And if you’re involved in helping the company institute an employee wellness program, my guess is you will get healthier too.