A fresh start Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

In light of economic strife, employee layoffs and budget cuts across the board, employees are under pressure. Now more than ever you have to take care of your most valuable assets: your employees.

Most companies have health care plans in place, but in today’s business world, that’s not really enough. That’s why many companies — both large and small — are implementing corporate wellness programs.

Your employees are facing a lot of stressors — there’s work pressure on top of social pressure on top of family pressure. Every day you get an e-mail or see a commercial that promises to help you easily and quickly lose weight. We live in a society that, for better or worse, is driven by superficiality and outside appearances.

These pressures can push people to try unreasonable fad diets and other unhealthy eating habits, just so they can fit into a smaller clothing size. A hungry employee who isn’t getting proper nutrition and has a poor self-image probably isn’t going to be that productive or easy to work with, either.

Still, weight is important. Medical studies confirm that weight impacts your quality of life, cholesterol and blood pressure levels and much more. By creating a workplace wellness program that offers your employees a solution to the pressure of eating better and living better, you’ll create a culture of healthier, happier employees.

A person is more likely to engage in wellness activities in a group setting such as the workplace, so implementing a program at your company is a great way to take care of your people. The key is to understand what your employees need and want and what incentives they’ll respond to.

“When starting a wellness program, it is essential to fully evaluate your company’s situation and make decisions based on your environment,” says Renay Wolfrays, the communications coordinator for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. “Once you have developed and implemented a workplace wellness program, the designated team should review and make adjustments to enhance the program on an annual basis.”

Smart Business spoke with Wolfrays about wellness programs and how they can benefit you, your employees and your company.

What is workplace wellness?

Workplace wellness involves ongoing education and includes activities that an employer may utilize to promote healthy lifestyles to employees and their families. Wellness programs require a minimum investment of time and money. More substantial programs often use more resources, but the many benefits to supporting and encouraging employee health and safety far outweigh the costs.

Why should a company implement workplace wellness?

Workplace wellness is an investment in your most important asset — your employees. Employees spend an average of 50 hours per week at work. This makes the workplace an ideal setting to engage employees in wellness activities.

Some advantages of a workplace wellness program are:

n Improved productivity and morale

n Reduced absenteeism

n Attract and retain employees

n A positive impact on health care costs

How does a company implement a wellness program?

First and foremost, there needs to be senior level support for any wellness program to succeed. Without management’s endorsement, people at all levels will struggle to recognize what is important and what is a priority. Management must practice what they preach; otherwise any attempts at workplace wellness will result in failure.

The second component of a wellness program is the creation of a well functioning team. Management should appoint a wellness champion who will ‘coach’ a small team to lead the company wellness initiative. The team should consist of employees from all levels, including management.

It is important for each member of the team to understand his or her role. The primary responsibility of the team is to keep employees engaged in various activities throughout the year. The company should allow time for the team to meet on a regular basis. The wellness initiative can fall by the wayside if the team does not meet on a regular basis. It is crucial for each person on the team to have an active hand in the development and implementation of the workplace wellness program.

Why are incentives important?

Incentives play a significant role in the success of any workplace wellness program. Educating employees about the benefits of positive lifestyle behaviors is an important first step. However, it will take stronger motivational forces to get most employees to take action. This is where incentives fit in. Incentives are the immediate answer to employees’ question of: ‘What’s in it for me?’

The best incentives are easy to administer, cost-effective and will move the largest number of employees to take action and sustain a positive behavior change over time. The key to designing incentives is maintaining desirable behaviors while minimizing challenges to the program.

Some of the most popular incentives are:

n Monetary/financial rewards

n Contests with prizes

n Paid time off

An incentive should be designed with a high-perceived value relative to its cost. Of course, the perception of value will vary from company to company and individual to individual. An incentive should be significant enough in value to give participants a reason to change now rather than waiting for a better reason later.

Renay wolfrays is the communications coordinator for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7011 or renay.wolfrays@jrgadvisors.net.