Promoting a Healthy Workforce
By Justin Runyon
Helping your workforce keep healthy is an investment in their productivity. Healthy-workforce initiatives can encourage your workers to adopt positive, healthful lifestyles that will contribute to their energy, attention span, and ability to cope with stress at work, decrease the amount of sick leave they take, and lower your company’s healthcare costs. Healthy-workforce programs can also be a selling point for recruitment and retention of valued workers. When deciding how best to promote health among your workforce, you may want to consider:
- Whether your company can offer big-ticket options such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
- How to get the most out of any benefits you currently offer – for example, many health insurance plans already offer wellness programs.
- How no-cost programs, such as starting a walk-at-lunch club, can get the ball rolling.
- How your corporate culture and leading by example can promote an emphasis on health among workers.
Offer health insurance if possible
The expense of health insurance can make it prohibitive for small employers, but it’s an obvious first step in keep your workforce healthy. Employees who have access to health insurance are more likely to practice preventative care and less likely to ignore health problems until they become major and require extended time away from work. The insurance company may also offer wellness programs such as Ask-a-Nurse phone lines and health education classes.
Investigate Employee Assistance and Work/Life programs
Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is a catch-all term for a variety of counseling and recovery programs that generally cover alcoholism, substance abuse, professional help with marital or family difficulties, and addictions such as gambling. Sometimes planning services to address personal financial problems fall under the EAP umbrella. The bland name covers a variety of issues that call for privacy, but can profoundly impact an employee’s productivity. A small business probably cannot afford (and hopefully does not need) an ongoing EAP. However, rather than lose a valued employee if such a problem develops, you may find it cost-effective to invest in EAP services on a case-by-case basis. Mid-size and large companies sometimes bundle EAP services in the same department with a variety of work/life balance programs intended to help employees handle conflicting job and home responsibilities and reduce stress.
Make healthy food accessible at work
What’s in your vending machine? A steady diet of soda and Snickers does no one any good. It is possible to get healthier choices, and your employees will concentrate more effectively on their work if something nutritious to eat is available. Offering a refrigerator and microwave where employees can store meals from home also helps, as does posting menus from nearby delis or lunch counters that offer healthy choices. Do you have a coffee machine in your break room? Try adding a pot of hot water or an electric tea kettle to provide other options.
Even a little exercise goes a long way in making your employees happier and more energetic. Encourage gym memberships, adult amateur sports leagues, bicycling to and from work, and easy-entry programs such as going for a walk or stretching during lunch – it will build morale and pep up your workforce.
Support anti-smoking efforts
The long-term health benefits of not smoking are unquestioned. Quitting will help your employees feel better and stay healthier. It will also help lower health-insurance costs for them and you. This is a tricky area: no one likes to be dictated to about their personal habits, and anti-smoking initiatives have left some smokers feeling defensive. However, you can at least ensure that your employees know that smoking cessation support is in place for them to use.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- If your employees are harried and always too busy to take their vacation, they may burn out and end up spinning their wheels instead of achieving results for you. Encourage your employees to think about long-term productivity as well as their current project. Require that they take some vacation time every year, and set an example by taking your own personal-leave time and talking about what steps you take to stay fresh and energized.
- Health-promoting programs can be do-it-yourself and low-cost or free! Post a sign-up sheet for employees who want to find walking partners to do a few laps around the building at lunch; start a company team in softball, bowling, or whatever amateur sport your employees show a preference for; support bicycling and walking to work (if weather and traffic permits) by designating a place for bicycles to be parked and offering restroom facilities that are adequate for freshening up after arrival.
- Lead from the front! Employees are apt to be skeptical about company initiatives – until they see their bosses participating. If you play softball, go for a walk at lunch, or mention that you’re enjoying the gym, chances are good that your employees will begin investing their time in those activities too.