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)

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