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Lindsay Henwood

U-Haul’s Nicotine-Free Policy: Fostering Wellness, or Cutting Costs?

If a company eliminates applicants because of an unhealthy behavior, are they fostering workplace wellness, or cutting healthcare costs? Are they promoting a culture of healthy employees, or discriminating against potential candidates? Or is it somewhere in between?

With U-Haul’s new smoke-free policy, workplaces across the country have to ask themselves where the policy falls.

U-Haul’s New Policy

On December 30th, U-Haul International announced that beginning February 1, 2020, it would implement a nicotine-free policy in 21 states without protections for smokers’ rights. As of February 1, it will become one of the first major companies to decline applicants who are nicotine users.

The policies will be enacted in:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

According to the company, applicants in these 21 states can expect to see the anti-nicotine policy on their job applications. They will be questioned about their nicotine use and may be required to undergo nicotine testing in certain states before they can be deemed hirable.

The policy also covers e-cigarettes and vaping products. Any current U-Haul employees who are nicotine users will be grandfathered into the policy, offering nicotine cessation programs to assist them.

The goal of the policy, nominally, is to further U-Haul’s goal of promoting one of the healthiest corporate cultures in the United States and Canada.

Policy Implications By the Numbers

In Arizona alone, where U-Haul is headquartered, the implications of the policy are significant.

U-Haul employs 30,000 workers in the United States and Canada. In Arizona, it is one of the state’s largest employers, with a workforce of more than 4,000. It is also legal in Arizona to discriminate against nicotine users in the hiring process.

That might be good news for people exposed to nicotine, but not for applicants who use nicotine.

As of 2017, 15.6% of adults in Arizona smoked cigarettes, while 5.3% of adults used e-cigarettes and 2.8% used smokeless tobacco. Out of a population of roughly 7.1 million, that’s over 1.1 million adults who smoke cigarettes, 376,300 who use e-cigarettes, and 198,800 who use smokeless tobacco.

All of whom would no longer be eligible for employment with U-Haul — which is, again, one of the largest employers in the entire state of Arizona.

The Public Health Implications of Smoking

Of course, the public health implications of smoking and nicotine use are nothing to sneeze at. Nicotine is known to be a dangerous and highly addictive chemical, and it is by no means the only chemical associated with smoking. Cigarettes contain more than 5,000 chemicals, hundreds of them harmful to human health, including:

  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Cadmium (a metal used to make batteries)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Tar

Smoking has been linked to 90% of lung cancer cases. Almost one-third of coronary heart disease deaths are the result of secondhand smoke. 

Nicotine itself is known to increase blood pressure, narrow the arteries, and contribute to hardening arterial walls, which in turn can lead to heart attacks.

It is, in short, one of the main preventable causes of death in the United States.

The risks are also high for anyone around secondhand smoke: people exposed to it are 25% to 30% more likely to develop heart disease.

Public Health, or Lower Healthcare?

U-Haul posits the policy as part of a shift toward corporate health and wellness, asserting that the shift toward a healthier workforce is an investment in the wellbeing of their team members. The policy, according to U-Haul, will help reinforce a wellness program that encourages workers to focus on four areas: health, fitness, nutrition, and mindset.

However, the company also noted that the policy was part of a continued effort to decrease healthcare costs.

Are There Cost Benefits? 

Workplace wellness is an industry with $8 billion in annual revenue in the United States. Almost half of all employers with at least 50 employees offer a workplace wellness program. Of those that don’t have a program, half have said they plan to introduce one.

The popular story among corporations and researchers is that these efforts reduce healthcare costs for employers. A 2010 review by a Harvard economist stated that wellness programs return $3 in healthcare savings and $3 in reduced healthcare costs for every $1 invested.

But is that actually the case?

Research by the RAND Corporation, including data from 600,000 employees from seven employers and 10 years of data from a Fortune 100 employer, found that wellness programs have little, if any, immediate impact on employer healthcare costs.

Generally, wellness programs have two components: lifestyle management (which focuses on employees with health risks such as obesity or smoking), and disease management (which focuses on employees who already have a chronic disease). Together, the two programs generate $30 in savings per member per month. But 87% of those savings came from disease management, even though only 13% of employees participate in disease management — compared to 87% participation in lifestyle management.

One might make the case that disease management can result from diseases caused by smoking, but U-Haul’s policy targets lifestyle issues and prevents nicotine users from being hired in the first place, thereby precluding their ability to participate in disease management programs.

In short, it’s hard to say whether U-Haul’s policy can save the company healthcare dollars in the long run.

Loopholes in the Policy That Penalize Workers

But what we can say is that the policy penalizes nicotine users, including those who are trying not to use nicotine.

The program as presented makes no exceptions for nicotine users who are trying to quit smoking. And while nicotine users can remain smoke-free, 30% of them do so with the aid of some kind of nicotine product.

What about quitting with nicotine-free products? That’s not as easy as it sounds. The FDA has only approved two nicotine cessation products that don’t contain nicotine: Chantix and Zyban.

And yes, nicotine replacement products and medicines do show up in nicotine screenings. Nor does the policy seem to differentiate between smokers and those with nicotine in their system due to secondhand smoke, or between cigarettes and nicotine products with a lower risk to bystanders, like smokeless tobacco.

Balancing Wellness and Fairness

Is the policy good for worker health? From the perspective of removing harmful substances from the workplace, yes.

Is the policy fair for workers? From the perspective of smokers and people with smokers around them, not so much.

That U-Haul’s policy lacks any differentiation implies that the company’s stance is a moral one more than a health one. Given that the healthcare cost benefits to the employer seem unclear, it begs the question: How much employers can force their own policy views to restrict the lives of their own employees?

It’s not a bad idea to discourage unhealthy habits per se. The issue is doing it in a productive and nondiscriminatory way. U-Haul’s broad policy is a bit unclear in that regard, so we’ll have to watch how this plays out.

6 Employee Wellness Trends for 2020

We’re wrapping up 2019. It’s time to start planning for the New Year, and that means taking a close look at the issues around workforce wellness. Concepts of wellness, particularly employee wellness, are evolving, and in 2020 we’ll see a lot of organizations working to meet their employees’ needs better. Pay attention to these six employee wellness trends for 2020. I predict we will be hearing a lot about them.

The Concept of Wellness is Changing

The current multi-generational workforce is guiding the conversations around health and wellness in the workplace. Both Millennials and Generation Zs expect employers to invest in their health and wellbeing. According to research just published by ClassPass, “Seventy-five percent of professionals surveyed believe it is their employer’s responsibility to contribute to their health and wellbeing, ideally in part by providing wellness benefits to employees.”

But there’s a disparity between how employers and employees view access to health and wellness benefits. According to a study published by Aetna, 70% of employers believe they provide reasonable access to health and wellness benefits, while only 23% of employees agree. Additionally, the study found that 82% of workers across the globe are concerned that mental health issues could impact their ability to work. But only 25% of employees feel their organizations provide enough support for mental health conditions.

I’ve been writing in the HR space for years about the importance of a healthy workforce — and that means revising health and wellness programs to better meet new workforce realities. Let’s take a closer look at what some of these are:

1. Holistic benefits: Holistic benefits plans will become more readily available. Holistic benefits plans are constructed to address all aspects of care, including mind and body components. Managing mental health conditions such as stress and depression will be increasingly commonplace, extending, in some plans, to assistance with financial stressors such as college loan payments.

More companies will approach health insurance and employee benefits with an eye toward investing in both benefits and people. Those who take this direction will be focusing on the impact this has on metrics, including employee retention, productivity, workforce attraction, and company culture. “High-value options and technologies are increasingly defining and shaping holistic employee benefit programs,” according to Workforce.com.

Employees want health and wellness benefits options that fit their needs and lives, and statistics bear that out. In MetLife’s 2019 Employee Benefit Trends Study, 55% of those surveyed said they would be more interested in working for a company offering holistic benefits. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they would be more loyal to a company providing those benefits, while 52% stated they believed they would be more successful in both work and life with access to holistic benefits. Generation Z and Millennial employees rated holistic benefits as slightly more important (57% versus 52%) in their responses.

2. Equal benefits for alternative families and identities: Ensuring that alternative families have access to equal benefits will be a significant shift moving into 2020. Examples of this may include people who are caring for extended family members or elderly parents, have blended families, or are part of an LGBTQ+ community. We will see organizations begin to explore the feasibility of expanding family leave policies to provide new parents of both sexes access to flex-time policies.

3. A focus on mental health and stress reduction benefits: Stress harms overall mental health and employee engagement, so we’ll see more organizations build stress-reduction activities into their employee wellness programming. Many companies are already offering on-site, face-to-face wellness coaching, mindfulness courses, and individual therapy.

As the ClassPass survey findings illustrate, people believe their employers should contribute to their health and wellbeing. Eighty-eight percent of the survey’s respondents stated they would be more likely to recommend an employer who supports their wellbeing efforts.

4. Adventure and social good programs: Companies are adding programs like these to their employee wellness programs, which allow employees to give back by volunteering time and services. Salesforce has a fantastic program, offering its “citizen philanthropists” seven days of paid Volunteer Time Off, among other social good options. This type of initiative appeals to younger workers, and we’ll see an increase in the implementation of adventure and social good programming.

5. Expanding financial wellness programs for all employees: Going beyond the lunchtime seminars and offering in-house financial counseling and programs targeted to individual employees’ needs. Most firms will have employees ranging in age from those just entering the workforce to a cohort facing retirement. Financial wellness program possibilities are endless, from payday loans using alternative “currencies” like hours or vacation time, tuition reimbursement and student loan pay-down assistance, to credit counselors and financial concierge services. Financial stress takes a massive toll on productivity in the workplace. Savvy employers understand that whatever costs they incur expanding financial wellness programs, they will reap back two-fold.

6. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict evolving employee needs and benefits investments better: AI is already creating more personalized experiences for employees. Its use is allowing companies to leverage data to tweak and adjust their wellness programs, resulting in a better user experience based on the employees’ preferences and wellness goals, as well as reduced overall corporate costs through fine-tuning. You’ll see more of this in the coming year. Watch for AI that monitors the use of emojis in internal messaging systems such as Slack, allowing organizations to gauge employee satisfaction and handle issues before they get out of hand.

Evaluating Your Own Workplace Wellness Culture

Employers need to keep pace with these changes. I’d suggest we commit to conducting a yearly review of our workplace wellness cultures. Annual reviews are essential to help organizations stay abreast of changing technology, societal conditions, and worker satisfaction levels. Your review should factor in metrics like productivity and employee engagement. Afterward, plan to adjust your programs in response to the results. You might even try experimenting with corporate culture shifts such as flex-time or remote-work options — which are certainly related to wellness, as more of us are starting to find out.

Here’s looking at a healthy and happy 2020. Cheers!

Improving Company Culture Starts With Wellness

An increasing number of employers have connected the dots between employee wellness and improved workplace productivity. That’s why it makes so much sense for businesses to emphasize wellness as part of their company culture.

In fact, 72 percent of companies in the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Employee Benefits survey said they currently offer some form of wellness program, .

The digital connection

If improvement in your employees’ wellness is your goal, digital technology can play a significant role in improving their health and consequently, their productivity. Research has explicitly linked the use of wearables, apps and other technology to increased employee productivity, as well as reduced absenteeism, lower stress levels and decreased employer healthcare costs.

A survey from Health IT Outcomes reported that 90 percent of employees surveyed said they wanted their company to provide a wearable device for tracking as an incentive. Companies are responding: Nearly half of the employers surveyed by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) offered or sponsored a tracker device as part of their wellness program.

By investing in digital technology, employers can boost participation in corporate wellness programs. These devices are a constant reminder to employees of their health status, allowing them to monitor their physical fitness activities, heart rates, body temperatures and even sleep patterns.

A competitive advantage

Businesses that promote a culture of wellness have a competitive edge. Those adoptive businesses can build stronger employee engagement with the company’s goals, according to a study sponsored by Humana and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The study found that employees in wellness programs are 12 percent less likely to experience health issues caused by work-related stress and nearly 10 percent less likely to find professional obligations interfering with their ability to make healthy choices regarding nutrition and exercise.

The Humana/EIU study also confirmed that stress remains a severe health problem in the workplace. More than 70 percent of the employees surveyed concurred that company wellness programs can have at least a moderate impact in reducing stress. According to other key findings, approximately nine in 10 employees surveyed said they find participating in employee wellness programs improves their fitness as well as their overall happiness and well-being.

Keys to increasing participation

So, what’s thwarting increased participation? One key contributor is a lack of time. Approximately half of the employees in the Humana/EIU study said they were too busy to participate as fully as they would like in their company’s wellness program. One way companies can compensate is to increase the motivation for participation.

Healthcare Trends Institute recommends developing a “sticky strategy” to incentivize participation, to help companies, for example, recoup an investment in wearables. In a 2016 PwC study, The Wearable Life 2.0, more than 50 percent of respondents said that features such as monetary rewards would motivate increased use; and 45 percent said a gamification component would foster healthy competition.

Gamification also promotes a sense of team camaraderie — the idea that “we’re all in this together,” pulling for, and supporting, one other — which ultimately will boost morale, workplace engagement and productivity.

A company win-win

Clearly, there are multiple benefits — for businesses and their employees — in implementing an effective company wellness program:

  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Less work-related stress
  • More motivated employees
  • Better employee engagement
  • Renewed sense of team camaraderie
  • Improved health, well-being and happiness
  • Expanded alignment with company goals and company culture

The tie between corporate success and improved employee health and well-being is evident, and that’s a win-win that will take your company culture to a whole new level.

This article was first published on Entrepreneur.

The Benefits of Developing a Workplace Culture of Health

Most of us try to live well but fall short of our goals. A recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found less than three percent of us have a “healthy lifestyle”—despite the fact that a vast majority of us are on a quest for personal wellness.

But wellness takes a lifestyle change, and time spent at work can either help or hinder. As more companies realize that a happy and healthy employee is better for business, they’re looking for ways to develop a workplace culture of health.

Real-world results show there’s value in workplace wellness—both for employees and the bottom line. Here’s a look at why more and more organizations are being proactive about health and how you can get employees involved.

The Benefits of Having Healthy Employees

There’s no shortage of research tying work life to physical and mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that health promotion programs can help employees “develop knowledge, self-management and coping skills as well as build a social support network among coworkers, supervisors, and family.”

At work, these wellness benefits translate into:

  • Fewer absences. Healthy people don’t spend as much time off sick. That connection is pretty straightforward, but the effect is far-reaching: Reducing the amount of time spent away from work improves productivity and provides room for more innovation and growth.
  • Better performance. Productivity isn’t just about time spent at a desk. People who exercise, get enough sleep, and eat right are taking care of their minds as much as their bodies, which can improve concentration and focus, and help employees avoid the dreaded “afternoon slump” or feelings of mental fogginess.
  • Higher engagement. Wellness programs bring people together outside of their day-to-day work. Group activities can encourage collaboration and improve both relationships and motivation. From better engagement and job satisfaction to retention, a well-rounded wellness program can be a boon for human resources.

Companies can also see financial benefits for their efforts:

  • Lower insurance costs. The CDC point out that healthy employees spend less out-of-pocket on health-related expenses—and so do their employers. People in good health present a lower insurance risk, which translates into lower insurance costs. A look at the ROI of employee wellness programs in 2010 found that every dollar invested provided $6 in savings.
  • Improved stock performance. A survey of 49 public companies by the Health Enhancement Research Organization and Mercer found those with wellness programs appreciated more and outperformed the S&P 500.

Why a Focus on Workplace Wellness Works

Encouraging employees to take breaks during their day to exercise or eat better is fine, but what is it about workplace culture that makes healthy living happen?

  • Built-in support. Many individuals struggle with their health goals because they feel like they’re trying to do it on their own. By creating an environment that encourages employee wellness, health goals become front and center; instead of being isolated, employees can support one another on their journeys.
  • Some companies offer incentives to increase employee participation and reward commitment. Perks like insurance discounts, time off, or monetary rewards can be helpful motivators.
  • Greater confidence and mental health. The benefits of better health help people feel better about themselves, which boosts confidence and self-esteem. Plus, activities can help alleviate some mental health problems and generate a sense of well-being.

Forcing Employees to Participate Could Backfire

Some employers make participation in wellness programs a requirement. Employees who refuse may find that they must pay for COBRA benefits, and courts are supporting the move so far. Keep an eye out to see how further cases against mandatory programs pan out, but I think requiring participation may go too far. For many companies, voluntary participation provides enough return that it isn’t necessary to strong-arm employees into it.

Creating a Culture of Corporate Wellness

Some companies are well known for their health-related benefits. Google offers napping pods as well as swimming pools, ping pong tables, standing desks, and healthy foods. Kaiser Permanente provides employees with healthy recipes, programs to track wellness goals, and group fitness activities. General Electric employees receive free preventive exams, free online second opinions, and incentives specifically for nonsmokers.

Not everyone has such deep pockets, however, and they aren’t necessary; any business can make an investment in health. Corporate wellness programs succeed when they have specific goals, established budgets, and policy for company involvement.

Consider your employees and their needs before setting program goals. Find ways to encourage employees to take small steps, like getting up and moving during the day. Talk to your insurance provider, too; many insurers have built-in programs. Even educating employees about the resources available to them can be a step in the right direction.

It doesn’t take grand gestures to promote a culture of health; simple activities can yield significant benefits. With small changes, you can effectively transition your company to one that makes employee well-being a priority.

 

photo credit: Drexel A Healthier U Drexel_Employee_Olympics_VI-80 via photopin (license)

Choosing Tools to Promote a Culture of Wellness

Have you made promoting a culture of wellness a top priority in your workplace?  Well, I have to tell you, you’re on the right track—and others would do well to follow your example. Why? Because placing emphasis on workplace wellness is one of the most effective ways employers can help boost employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, and control healthcare costs. And it makes sense for your employees too, since they’ll be the direct beneficiaries of a workplace program that staves off sickness and helps build better long-term health and wellbeing.

Making workplace wellness a priority is the place to start, but having the right tools to support your employees is also really important. According to Morella Devost, founder of holistic health website Transformation One, there are 11 keys to creating a culture of wellness, and having the tools to facilitate your wellness initiative is one of them. Tools can encompass elements such as gym equipment, fitness trackers, and health assessments, as well as various communication platforms like newsletters, bulletin boards, health websites, recipe sharing, and more. These tools are not a program in and of themselves but are essential elements in supporting your workplace wellness program.

Workplace Tech

You also have the category of workplace tech, with wellness technology, showcased by those wearables that are all the rage, including fitness trackers, smart watches, and heart rate monitors. What’s not to love? And, in addition to the basic functionalities of wearable fitness trackers, which aid in setting personal goals—i.e., tracking the number of steps or flights of stairs—these tools can provide workplaces with a way to monitor group goals or even set up friendly interoffice competitions.

Fitbit, the leading name in fitness trackers, offers your employees easy-to-use software and services for planning, tracking, executing, and managing a group health program. Employees motivate, inspire, and encourage each other by participating in group programs, making it more likely they’ll continue working toward their fitness goals. In fact, Fitbit data shows that users tracking their activity with one or more friends are 27 percent more active than those going it alone.

These days many organizations committed to forging a culture of wellness are buying or subsidizing the purchase of fitness trackers for their employees, citing the return on investment they realize through higher productivity and lower absenteeism, which often more than offsets the cost of the devices.

On-Site Gyms and Other Options

We see another trend that supports workplace wellness in the increase in corporate fitness centers. But as Forbes points out, following the trend without having a strategy to support it is an exercise in futility. Having a qualified staff run the fitness center, as well as maintaining ongoing fitness programming and initiatives that bolster such use are among the key elements that will make the significant investment in a fitness center pay off.

For those companies without the budget to put in a fitness center, there are many cost-effective alternatives. You can invest in fitness tools like yoga mats, exercise balls, and other non-tech fitness products as a way to encourage your employees to integrate physical fitness throughout their day.

Promoting Physical Comfort

While physical fitness is important to workplace wellness, physical comfort is another component. According to Staples Business Advantage’s second annual Workplace Index Survey, a majority of respondents (employers and staff) agree that ergonomic and functional furniture is a significant factor contributing to higher productivity. Providing furniture that helps improve posture and ensure employees’ comfort throughout the workday is a substantial step to take in support your organization’s dedication to wellness.

Workplace design is another important element to promoting health and workplace wellness. Spaces that encourage walking and movement, proper task lighting, adequate noise masking, and good airflow are essential components in making an office more productive—and healthier.

Promoting a Positive Outlook

And what about job satisfaction? It turns out, to no one’s surprise, that workplace wellness also ties into the importance of job satisfaction as a means of helping employees have a positive outlook on work and life. Again, technology is necessary here. According to the Staples Business Advantage survey, respondents identified inadequate technology as one of the top three causes of lower productivity and reduced job satisfaction. Conversely, the most productive and satisfied employees are those who have access to the latest technology such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

However, technology can be a dual-edged sword. We’re finding it difficult to disconnect from our jobs because of technology that is driving an “always-on” work culture. That has led to the majority of workers—53 percent—feeling overworked and burnt out. This inability to easily disconnect from our tech also underscores the importance of promoting a workplace culture of wellness that considers not only the “big things” but the “little things” as well. Yes, onsite gyms are nice—many employees find this to be a great perk—but they’re also looking for other amenities as well (a well-stocked break room, for instance).

So, while tools are important, don’t overlook the importance of personal connections—employees motivating other employees and managers modeling healthy behavior for employees to emulate.

A healthy, more productive staff is the ultimate goal of a workplace wellness program. Make sure the tools—and your people—support the program to achieve a better culture of wellness for everyone in your organization.

This post is sponsored by Staples Business Advantage.

Photo Credit: oGGa The Idea Provider Flickr via Compfight cc

4 Ways To Make Workplace Wellness A Culture Win

Here’s an idea for cutting edge talent management: workplace wellness programs. Implemented well, they’re mutual ROI meets wearable tech meets a deep level of employee engagement that reflects beautifully on employer brand. Not only can they enhance performance, but they show a genuine concern for employees’ well-being. And they’re part of one of my most basic adages: a happy employee is good for profits.

The American Heart Association found that for every $1 invested in workplace wellness, companies can receive up to $3 in return. But, like everything, there are right ways and wrong ways to implement workplace wellness programs. It depends on the company’s goal in adoption: how involved do you want to be? What’s the budget? What are the incentives and rewards?

Short-term benefits aim for mental clarity, higher productivity, morale and loyalty boosts, and all that. The larger goal of reducing healthcare costs and preventing injuries requires you build a wellness program that’s good for the long term.

But think about the culture of the workplace: if your employees are scattered all over the globe in different time zones, you’re either going to have to satellite physical fitness spaces in, create digital ones, or both. If you’re centralized, have some fun and create an amazing wellness and fitness center that gives employees bragging rights. And depending on the scope of the program, it can seem benevolent or big brother— is it opt-in or mandatory? Do employees get rewarded for participating?

Also essential: bring it up to date and make it tech-friendly. Here are 4 ways:

1) Provide wearable tech: It’s inexpensive, it’s personal. Wearables are booming. Some 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate wellness plans over the next five years, according to ABI Research. The tech offers encouragement without seeming required, and apparently, 44 percent of US workers are already wearing it at work. Activity trackers can be linked to social wellness apps; customizable versions can create company-wide programs with events, competitions and rewards. Employees can monitor their own personal progress and make it social. Chances are, they will. There are versions with elaborate data tracking, from blood pressure to heart rate and beyond. Others include eating habits as well — offering recognition for making healthy choices. When it’s small and personal it doesn’t seem invasive. And face it: we all love gear.

2) Create occasions: If routine is the enemy of innovation, break it up by observing the myriad healthy holidays: get your employees on their feet on National Walking Day (the first Wednesday in April, when employees can participate by walking for at least half an hour). Create a “Fitness Friday” with allowable hours for gym, yoga, walking or running during the workday. Because we’re way past casual Fridays now, it’s much more fun to make them actually mean something. Also, adding a fitness component to an already busy workweek without allotting for allowable time will make it feel like an extracurricular drag. You may see a whole lot more participation outside work anyway, but don’t expect it.

3) Offer tangible incentives: Did I mention rewards? Incentivizing participation is key to driving and sustaining employee engagement. There are countless ways to do it, but ones that hit the wallet are certainly the sweetest, including discounts on health premiums, flextime or home days, gift cards (but watch that gold watch syndrome), healthy retreats — a great way to build in creative collaboration and team brainstorming between massages and yoga. Leaderboards, team goals, coaching consults —  you can build deeper engagement by polling employees on what they want in terms of recognition, and make it adaptable as opposed to one size fits all.

4) Measure its effectiveness: After a mid-sized bank in Illinois instituted a wellness program as part of its benefits package, it achieved 95% participation. There’s a point system, a whole range of activities and programs to choose from, and a close tie-in to healthcare and lifestyle changes. It’s expecting an ROI at the end of three years that will show measurable reductions in healthcare costs, lower absenteeism, and higher morale / productivity — saving between $1.50 and $3.50 for every dollar spent. It’s measuring the results annually in quantifiable terms, starting with baseline screenings for each participant, and measuring everything from health to productivity to insurance usage.

There are countless fitness apps that can be brought into a workplace wellness program; and it’s a great way to measure performance as well. The point is to make it part of your intentional employee brand. Also nice: having people that are shiny, happy, healthy representatives of your company. They tend to smile more. No matter how much we work on improving recruitment and engagement, there’s something about a company that lets you walk outside and kick a ball around during a meeting that just can’t be beat.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

Photo Credit: urban.shake Flickr via Compfight cc

Mapping a Healthy Workplace

Sixty-two percent of respondents to the Staples Business Advantage 2016 Workplace Index say the availability of a wellness program is a selling point when looking for a new job, but 58 percent say their workplace doesn’t offer one. So it’s no wonder companies are talking about them a lot these days.

A large part of the ROI that comes from instituting health and wellness programs is, obviously, healthier employees. Sixty-one percent of Aflac’s annual Workforces Report’s participants report they’ve made healthier choices and experience higher job satisfaction levels due to their companies’ wellness programs. And what goes hand-in-hand with healthier, happier employees, and improved productivity? Decreased overall health costs for their employers.

Net Costs of NOT Creating a Healthy Workplace

With the end of summer upon us, and the dreaded flu season just around the corner, the healthier you can keep your workforce, the better. Staples’ Sixth Annual Flu Season Survey uncovered some pretty alarming statistics on just how many people come to work sick, and the financial impact unhealthy employees can have on an organization. More than half are still coming to work sick because they feel there is too much going on at work to take a sick day.

“The flu is responsible for an estimated 70 million missed work days and billions of dollars in lost office productivity each year, so clearly businesses need to provide education and tools to keep workers healthy,” said Chris Correnti, vice president of Facility Solutions at Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.

“It’s not just missed workdays that have a detrimental impact – 66 percent of respondents say presentism – going into work sick but not maintaining productivity – is worse for a business than an employee staying home, a sharp increase from 31 percent last year.”

Mapping a Healthy Workplace

Before you get started mapping a healthy workplace, you’ll want to take a long, hard look at your workplace culture, and focus on the objective that best suits your organization. UHA Health Insurance recently outlined three “first steps” that will help set you on the right path to a corporate health and wellness program:

Identify Your Priorities. “For example, if you have 30 employees, and only one person is a smoker, focusing on smoking cessation is unlikely to generate participation from the majority of the group. Choose the particular issues that are relevant and important to your team.”

Do Your Research: “Find credible sources of information to clarify the particular issue you intend to address, and learn everything relevant you can on the subject.”

Build Your Program: “Clearly identify the issue, why it’s a problem, and what concrete steps can be taken. For example, if you want to focus on healthy eating, guide your team through key steps to improve their food choices such as meal planning, taste tests, and reading food labels.”

Next, do a walk through, with a critical eye, of your grounds (if you have them) and your office space. Do your employees have access to natural light? If they don’t, are there areas outside where they can hold walking meetings and get some fresh air? If you have an open concept design, are there private spaces for those who need quiet, or who want to have small brainstorming sessions? Is there room for a standing desk or two? Is your breakroom stocked with healthy snacks? Do you even have a breakroom? (By the way, Staples Business Advantage can create water and beverage delivery solutions for businesses large or small, taking some of the hassle out of keeping kitchens and breakrooms well stocked.)

Ok, so you’ve narrowed down your focus, and taken a good hard look at your office environment, and made tweaks where possible. Now, let’s take a look at a few other things that will help you foster wellness at work.

Workplace Wellness

Wearables: I’ve written before about how much I love wearables. They’re small, simple, and relatively inexpensive, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy getting a present from their boss? With 44 percent of American workers already sporting fitness devices at work, implementing a fitness program in your organization is a small but significant step toward increased health and wellbeing, and can also encourage team building. Trackers can be linked to social wellness apps, and departments can compete against each other for monthly or quarterly rewards.

Eliminate Stress with the Right Technology: Stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization. How much does stress cost American business? Up to $300 billion a year. One way to help cut back on workplace stress is by ensuring your employees have the right tools and technology at hand to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Make sure, where security allows, you have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy in place, and access to Wi-Fi. This is especially important if you offer “work from home” or remote positions. Invest in the best collaboration apps and video conferencing systems to bridge the gap between remote employees. And that ease of collaboration and communication that comes with having up to date technology translates to your “in house” teams as well. Slack is a well-known business messaging app, and businesses using it have reported a 32 percent increase in productivity. Having top-notch project management systems in place will also help alleviate workplace stress, as well as boosting efficiency, time management, and accuracy.

Promote Employee Buy-In: It’s all well and good to have a workplace wellness policy in place, but if no one is using it…well…you know the rest. Give employees the time they need to stay healthy—in fact, make it a part of their workday if you can. Promote “Fitness Fridays” or “Bike to Work” days. Speak to your teams and find out what they would like to see as part of their program. Perhaps once a month coaching, or massage. You can even go as far as to provide discounts on health premiums, or “earned time off” bonuses based on monthly fitness output (steps walked, etc.). The key here is to let employees know that it’s not only ok to take a break for fitness, it’s a necessary part of their workday.

The bottom line is that the net cost of NOT creating a healthy workplace far outweighs the cost to build one. Having an established workplace wellness policy in place won’t just help you have happy, healthier employees as well as raised productivity, it will also serve as a gold-star incentive when you are actively recruiting. And that’s a win-win any way you look at it.

This post is sponsored by Staples Business Advantage.

 

Photo Credit: vlad_star Flickr via Compfight cc

Five Ways to Foster a Wellness Culture

I’m going to say it loud and proud: I love workplace wellness programs. And I will shout it from the rooftops until every company in every industry finally understands how invaluable they are to overall corporate success. Here’s the thing—a happy, healthy employee is good for profits. In fact, the American Heart Association found that for every $1 invested in workplace wellness, companies could expect to receive up to $3 in return. That’s fantastic ROI.

I also love technology, but it’s true that technology has disrupted our work lives and our family time. And while that slow-creeping crossover has had (some would say) an adverse effect on “family time,” as most of us remain tethered to our mobile devices, it has had a different, more positive impact on work. Today, people can virtually work from anywhere, at any time. Companies offer more flex time and work from home options, and employees see previously grueling travel schedules reduced due in part, to things like online video collaboration.

But, that constant connectivity and flexibility comes at a price.

Why Wellness Programs are the Future of Work

When Staples Business Advantage conducted their second annual Workplace Index, what they found was telling. Instead of technology reducing workloads, employees are today working too much. In fact, of their U.S. respondents, most reported working longer hours to try and catch up on work they couldn’t tackle during an eight-hour day. And that workload is taking a toll.

  • Sixty-four percent of respondents say their workplace has contributed to stress.
  • Nearly half report feeling overworked is motivating them to look for another job.
  • Thirteen percent have even taken a workplace stress-related leave of absence.
  • And yet, 66 percent of employees still consider the office as the most productive place to get work done.

Clearly, the onus lies with employers to ensure the workplace is a healthy one. “This study shows that there is a tremendous opportunity for organizations to focus on and design employee experiences where employees truly want to show up,” said Jacob Morgan, author of The Future of Work. Morgan, who worked in conjunction with Staples Business Advantage on the report, stated, “Offering employees health and wellness programs, well-designed office environments and up-to-date modern technologies are all a part of that employee experience. This is crucial to be able to attract and retain top talent.”

He is absolutely correct. Consider this: While a full 62 percent of respondents said the availability of a wellness program is a selling point when looking for a new job, 58 percent reported their workplace doesn’t offer one. Let’s get started today on changing those statistics, and creating corporate environments where healthy workers become top priorities. Here’s how.

Five Ways to Foster a Wellness Culture

The employees surveyed in Staples Business Advantage’s Workplace Index 2016 made it clear they want more from their employers. Here are five ways to help foster a wellness culture, and actively maintain a health-focused culture.

  1. Create well-designed, inspiring workplaces. Even with remote work and flex time on the rise, as mentioned above, 66 percent of employees still rate the office as the most productive place to get work done. But sadly, many workers describe their workspaces as being less than inspiring. According to the survey, “The majority of survey respondents describe their office as standard, plain and dull…Forty-three percent would like to see more attention paid to workplace design, with respondents also citing a desire for natural light, private spaces, standing desks, lounge areas, and ergonomic/flexible furniture for multiple uses.” While this sounds like a lot of change, you don’t have to break the bank to keep employees happy and healthy. Standing desks can be jerry-rigged, or shared among multiple team members, and you can use an underused boardroom for increased collaboration part of the time, for private or small group projects.
  1. Make breaks mandatory. Did you know that 53 percent of employees eat lunch at their desk every single day? I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once. Not surprisingly, the Workplace Index revealed that more than three-quarters of employees say they feel more productive after a break. So why don’t they take them? Guilt. As Kerry Anne Carter, vice president, Staples Business Advantage, said, “Taking a break in the always-on modern workplace can seem like a pipe dream, but it shouldn’t be.” More than half of those surveyed want breaks actively encouraged, and even something as innocuous as having a well-stocked break room offering healthy snacks can significantly increase employee productivity.
  1. Focus on personal and professional development. Having the right tools available is a major step toward a healthier workplace. As well as having the most up to date technology and software solutions on hand, providing a way for employees to continually better themselves at work will help improve retention rates. Create an easily accessed “professional development” Intranet where employees can do research and take courses. Implement a companywide year-long personal growth program, and have managers work with staff to reach their goals. And work with staff each year to reward them in some way for their hard work, whether through small promotions or pay raises or by awarding them an extra week of much-needed vacation time.
  1. If you haven’t already, adopt flexible work hours and paid time off. Stress kills, and there’s nothing more stressful than juggling life and work commitments, especially when there are children in the mix. Allowing flex time and remote work options, and ensuring people have the right technology that enables them to work, gives people control of their lives and goes a long way toward fostering employee loyalty. Also, as a bonus, studies have shown that people are 13 percent more productive when they work from home. Plus, when they inevitably come down with an illness like the flu, they won’t feel pressured to bring those germs into the office, possibly infecting colleagues. According to Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions, “The flu is responsible for an estimated 70 million missed workdays and billions of dollars in lost office productivity each year.”
  1. Make daily fitness part of your employee policies. While having an onsite gym or offering fitness subsidies might sound like options only the largest of companies can afford, even the smallest businesses can incorporate fitness into the workplace. Walking increases creative thinking, and by now we all know that sitting all day is awful for your health. Instead, get employees moving by holding “walking meetings.” If you absolutely have to have those laptops out, get out of the old boardroom routine by walking to a nearby coffee shop for your gathering. Or, invest in fitness wearables and inspire teams to challenge each other in monthly or quarterly exercise contests. Make it easy for employees to bike to work by providing safe areas to lock up their gear, and, if possible, to shower at work.

Building a health-focused work culture doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and the rewards far outweigh the costs. Make sure that managers and other business leaders walk the walk as well (no pun intended), and inspire employees to follow their lead into a healthier, happier, more productive workplace. You and your employees will be glad you did.

This post is sponsored by Staples Business Advantage.

Image credit: StockSnap.io

Does Your Workforce Feel The Love? #TChat Preview

(Editor’s Note: Are you looking for full highlights and resource links from this week’s events? See the #TChat Recap: “Employee Engagement: Say It Like You Mean It.“)

At one point or another, all of us have felt it.

You know what I mean. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you suddenly realize someone you desperately want to pursue is simply just … not that into you.

Talk all you want about The 5 Love Languages or 50 Shades of Grey. No amount of self-help advice or passionate persuasion is likely to alter the destiny of that relationship.

Employer Love: Beyond Hearts and Flowers

Fortunately, it’s a different story for relationships between employers and employees. Even companies that haven’t connected with their workforce in meaningful ways can turn a lackluster situation around. But what’s the best approach? And is it really worth the effort?

That’s the topic the TalentCulture community is taking on this week at #TChat Events. And we’re fortunate to be welcoming two guests who understand the importance of developing solid employer/employee bonds: Chris Boyce, CEO at Virgin Pulse, and Kevin Herman, Director of Worksite Wellness at The Horton Group.

Sneak Peek

Both of these executives see tremendous potential in strengthening employee loyalty and engagement by focusing on lifestyle fundamentals — health and well-being. Last year, Chris explained in a Bloomberg broadcast interview why it’s wise to invest in workforce wellness, especially in the face of rising healthcare costs and reduced benefits. Watch now:

Recently, Chris contributed a TalentCulture post expanding on this concept. In “Workplace Wellness: The Story Starts With Healthy Culture,” he makes the business case for embracing next-generation wellness programs — not just to promote employee health, but to build a more resilient business, overall.

What do you think about the importance of wellness programs and other employee engagement strategies in demonstrating employer “love”? This topic affects all of us in the world of work, so we hope you’ll join the #TChat crowd this week and add your perspective to the conversation.

#TChat Events: Love Your Employees, They’ll Love You Back

#TChat Radio — Wed, Feb 12 — 6:30pmET / 3:30pmPT

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Tune-in to the #TChat Radio show

Our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman talk with Chris Boyce and  Kevin Herman about why and how employers should demonstrate their commitment to workforce well-being. Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter — Wed, Feb 12 7pmET / 4pmPT

Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and our guests will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community, in a dynamic live chat.

Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we address these 5 related questions:

Q1: Why does workforce recognition and engagement matter more than ever?
Q2: What are the best ways employers can demonstrate this kind of “love”?
Q3: Where have you seen engagement in action, for better or worse?
Q4: What technologies help nurture workforce engagement?
Q5: What kind of engagement metrics are relevant and useful?

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, and on our new G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions.

We’ll see you on the stream!