Healthy results Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2010

Helping your employees improve their health can not only increase productivity and morale in the workplace, but it can also positively impact your bottom line.

And taking steps to help workers be healthier doesn’t have to be an expensive or a time-consuming process, says Marty Hauser, president of SummaCare, Inc.

“Sometimes employers are led to believe that wellness programs have to be complicated and expensive when, in reality, there are many simple, inexpensive things employers can do to motivate employees to think about their health,” says Hauser.

Smart Business spoke with Hauser about the simple things you can do to help your employees lead healthier lives, resulting in an improvement to your bottom line.

What are some simple changes that an employer can implement to help create a healthier work force?

Start by taking a look at your work force and where your employee health benefit dollars are going. That could be as simple as asking your employees to complete an anonymous health risk appraisal (HRA) to determine which health conditions are most prevalent in your workplace.

Then once you know which conditions are prevalent in your work force — such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, smoking or cancer — you’ll have a better idea of the kinds of behaviors you want to target, such as smoking cessation or physical inactivity.

There are also a number of steps you can take that can result in big gains for very little cost:

  • Offer healthier food choices. Many companies offer food at staff meetings and, too often, the options consist of doughnuts and cookies. Instead, offer choices such as fresh fruit.
  • Consider what foods are being served in the cafeteria, if you have one. While you don’t necessarily have to get rid of all fatty foods, you should offer healthier choices, such as salads, fruits and vegetables, and encourage employees to choose those. Most vending machines offer high-calorie items, such as potato chips, doughnuts and soda, and those should be replaced with items such as trail mix, almonds and water. At the very least, designate one side of the vending machine as the healthier choice and label it as such.
  • Encourage employees to get moving at lunch. Consider offering a fitness or yoga class during lunch, and encourage people to take small exercise breaks throughout the day, as those can have a big impact.
  • Offer flu shots on-site, even if you have to charge a small fee for them. Employees are much more likely to get vaccinated if they can do so during the workday instead of having to use their own time to go stand in line somewhere.
  • Post signs prompting employees to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ensure your stairwells are brightly lit and steps are maintained for safety.
  • Teach employees the importance of physical activity and teach them ways to be more active. Workshops can educate employees about ways to exercise at their desks or at home.
  • Set the tone from the top. Employees do pay attention to their leaders and will take cues from those who are leading a healthy lifestyle themselves.

How can an employer increase the chances of employees participating in efforts to become healthier?

Start by asking them what they want. Survey them about their goals, their interests and the types of programs in which they are likely to participate. Having a program doesn’t do any good if no one is interested in participating.

Second, create contests in which employees compete for small rewards, which creates excitement, increases the chances of participation and gets the majority of employees involved in a common activity and goal. Competitions can include anything from simply tracking the number of miles walked per week to something more ambitious, such as supporting a team to compete in a triathlon.

However, be wary of competitions such as ‘The Biggest Loser.’ Remember that the goal is to help employees live a healthier lifestyle, not to simply lose the most amount of weight in a given time frame.

Finally, rewards can encourage participation. Rewards don’t have to be costly and can include T-shirts, discounts on gym memberships, an additional vacation day or a drawing for a gift card to a healthy restaurant.

What benefits can an employer see as a result of implementing these simple changes?

Employees who are stressed or facing chronic illness are not working at 100 percent of their capabilities. That can be a drain on a company through a high rate of absenteeism, lower efficiency and less productivity, resulting in a lack of job satisfaction on the part of the employee and a hit to a company’s bottom line.

By taking simple steps to help employees live healthier lives, companies can realize a substantial cost savings through regaining lost productivity and by helping to negotiate better rates on insurance premiums, as better health results in fewer claims filed.

In addition, excessive weight, stress, and alcohol and drug use can contribute to accidents and injuries in the workplace. Healthy employees are less likely to become ill or injured, thereby increasing productivity and morale and reducing the number of workers’ compensation claims. And employees who are encouraged to take short exercise breaks show improved productivity, performance and accuracy, as the breaks allow recovery from fatigue and let employees go back to work refreshed.

Finally, healthy employees are happier employees, decreasing the chance that they will be looking for another job and thereby lowering your turnover rate.

Marty Hauser is the president of SummaCare, Inc., a provider-owned health plan located in Akron, Ohio. SummaCare offers a full line of health plans and ancillary products. Through its extensive network of more than 7,000 providers and more than 50 hospitals, SummaCare offers coverage to more than 107,000 members throughout northern Ohio. Reach him at hauserm@summacare.com.