With the Affordable Care Act taking effect and more employers looking for ways to curb the costs associated with employee health care, employee wellness initiatives are growing by leaps and bounds. According to Kaiser Permanente, more than half of all large employers have formal wellness programs in place. These programs are designed to help employees keep chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease under control, while also encouraging healthy lifestyles, weight loss and smoking cessation.
Thanks to a new federal grant program, many smaller companies that haven’t previously been able to afford managed wellness programs are now gaining access to resources that will help them encourage their workers to get and stay healthy. Not everyone qualifies, though, and some small businesses do not have the time or money available to develop a formal program.
That doesn’t mean they can encourage wellness, though. Even the smallest employers can take steps to help their workers stay well, and most of them don’t cost very much.
1. Support a Wellness Message
Many formal wellness programs come complete with slogans, mantras and reminders to help employees make good decisions while affirming the company’s commitment to health. When you’re launching a wellness program, develop your own messaging, and provide employees with items to help them reach their goals. Pedometers, water bottles and gym bags are just some of the items that don’t cost much money but offer support and encouragement to your employees. Even something as simple as custom Bic pens imprinted with reminders for healthy living can spur your employees to act while bolstering your message.
2. Make Exercise Easy
One reason people cite for not exercising is that they don’t have the time. Between managing work and family responsibilities, getting to the gym is often low on the priority list. Employers can support wellness by making it easier for their employees to get a workout in. The ideal solution would be an onsite gym, but if that’s cost prohibitive, find other ways to encourage working out. Work with a local gym to offer membership discounts to your employees. Schedule walk breaks where groups can take a 30 minute stroll around the building, or print walking route maps for employees who want to hoof it on their own. Schedule group exercise classes in the building, such as a lunchtime yoga or tai chi workshops.
3. Stress Emotional and Behavioral Health
Wellness isn’t limited to only physical health. Your mental wellbeing can affect everything from your blood pressure to your work performance. Create a culture in which work life balance is valued; employees should not feel as if they must work 18 hour days or give up their vacations to manage their workloads. Help employees access the support they need to manage stress and other emotional conditions; ideally, you’ll have access to an employee assistance program that can provide additional health and resources when needed.
4. Sponsor Challenges
Nothing can spur people to meet wellness goals more effectively than the possibility of a reward, or at least bragging rights. Tap into your employee’s natural competitiveness by sponsoring regular challenges designed to get them healthy. These might include weight loss challenges inspired by shows like “The Biggest Loser,” contests to see who can take the most steps each week or healthy recipe contests. Keep the challenges fun — there’s no need for hurt feelings — and always focus on improving everyone’s health.
5. Join a Sports League
Chances are you have a few athletes, or former athletes, on your payroll, so why not let them show off their skills on a company sports team? A company team for softball, basketball, bowling (or any other team sport) is a great way for your employees to build their teamwork skills and have fun together while also getting healthy. Even if the team’s performance is dismal, they’ll still have fun. In addition, as a bonus, you’re company will get a little extra PR and marketing boost by competing in a public league.
Encouraging employee wellness doesn’t have to mean that you spend thousands of dollars on a formal program or ban donuts from the break room. In fact, if you do it right, your wellness initiatives will not only get everyone healthy and reduce your insurance costs, it will also build a stronger team and stronger business.
About the Author: Gary Austin, also known as “The Pen Guy,” has been providing organizations with custom promotional products for over 25 years. Gary Austin Advertising specializes in pens, koozies, lighters, umbrellas and pretty much anything else you can think of to get your name out.