Things To Consider When Starting An Employee Wellness Program

If you own, operate or run a business, employee fitness should be added to your list of things to be concerned about. Companies that implement wellness programs can often receive substantial discounts on health care costs from their providers. These programs do not have to be complex or expensive and should be custom tailored to your particular company or division. Check with your group health care provider to see what reductions are available before creating any program as a simple exclusion of a word or two may invalidate certain benefits.


It is simple logic that employees who are healthy have lower health care costs than those who are not. Furthermore, healthy employees on average are far more productive than those who are not. So it makes sense from an operational standpoint to support a healthy lifestyle for your employees. Beyond purely economic benefits, one has to also consider that healthy employees will tend to be happier than those who are not. This leads to a much more cohesive and agreeable workplace.


Notice I said “support a healthy lifestyle”. I did not say “mandate a healthy lifestyle”. It is inappropriate to force any fully-grown adult to eat a certain way, do certain exercises or log how many calories they burned during a day. It is also beyond the scope and legal capability of most companies to do such things. However, supporting activities and choices that are healthy is perfectly fine as it allows the individual employee to select the portions that appeal to them. It also gives them time to adapt to changes versus being thrown into an extreme divergence from their current habits. Finally, it eliminates the risk of employees feeling ostracized for not keeping pace with other more active individuals in the company. Everyone should be free to set their own pace.


What owners and managers have to understand is that any workplace is made up of individuals with various interests and capabilities. Therefore a one-size-fits-all solution is not going to cover the entire population and runs the aforementioned risk of alienating certain people. A trainer or consultant bursting with energy and excitement may be well received for a few who are already inclined towards an active lifestyle, but in a sense, that is simply preaching to the choir. The ones who really need the help are often those who have no interest in traditional exercise or dietary plans. In fact, they may become increasingly annoyed by so much enthusiasm for something they dislike to begin with. It is very important that whoever consults with your company has the ability to vary their message in order to reach all employees.


So how does a company support a healthy lifestyle? It’s quite simple: treat people like machines. Yes, I said it, now think about it for a few seconds…all machines need repair and servicing, correct? Some need fluids and others need adjusting while many start to show signs of decay if not used on a regular basis. There is a very similar parallel with human beings. Our bodies are very complex machines that require certain things to operate at optimal levels of efficiency and comfort. Unfortunately, we as a society often ignore these requirements. Your workstation may be straight out of the 21st century, but your body still needs food, sleep and exercise the same way humans did 500 years ago. Therefore, we can conclude that an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle is simply a workplace that allows and encourages human machines to receive the “servicing” that they require.


This is a solution that does not cost very much to implement and in many cases can be achieved through simply educating the employees on how the body functions. Simple changes to an office such as wireless phone headsets to allow employees to stand or walk while on extended calls or modifying the angle of computer screens to allow a neutral head posture can be made very rapidly. For workplaces that are not offices, there are also low cost changes available. For example, in a warehouse where there is frequent heavy lifting by employees, education and coaching in how to lift by a trainer or coach would go a long way to ensuring that low-back injuries are minimized or eliminated. The variations are as diverse as the different types of occupations.


Fitness and health education will be the lynchpin of any wellness program. The majority of Americans do not understand how their body functions, moves or consumes energy. Knowing this, some in the fitness industry prey on this ignorance to sell whatever product or service is currently in vogue. The result is that people waste time and money doing things that have a limited effect on changing their bodies. Simply teaching your employees about the true definition of a calorie can have radical results in how they eat, without having to rely on proprietary shakes, juices, pills or powders. In another example, many cases of what is perceived to be lower back pain is actually hip pain from tight muscles. What could be solved with education on the musculoskeletal system and a few seconds of stretching, turns into expensive doctor visits, usually accompanied by scans, lab work and pain medications. Just eliminating misidentified ailments has the potential to save any company thousands of dollars per employee.


On the dietary front, be wary of attempting to regulate what your employees eat. This is still a free nation and people have the right to select what they want to eat. And don’t forget that there are dietary restrictions based on things like religion that preclude dictating what your employees should eat. The responsible method to assisting them into making personally wise decisions is once again, education. Many people through no direct fault of their own, are woefully uneducated about food, calories and macronutrients. If they become armed with knowledge about food’s nutritional structure, they can make better decisions based on their own bodies without resorting to compulsive behaviors or guesstimations gleaned from incorrect magazine articles.


When encouraging employees to be active, take care to consider the different bodies, abilities and motivations of each employee. Some may like just going for a walk during lunch time while others would enjoy having an instructor stop by to provide a cardio class. There is no single solution so take care not fall into a “savior routine” mentality where a particular program is seen as the be-all-end-all. As has been stated before, the goal is not to turn a sedentary office worker into a world-class athlete, but instead to turn them into a functionally-active office worker. If they don’t run a 9 minute mile, so what? If they can’t do do 10 pushups, who cares? There should a focus on teamwork between coworkers rather than competition. The simple fact is by just increasing their activity level, they’ve already enhanced their quality of life and reduced their cost to the company.


Health care costs can be very high for companies. Anything to reduce those costs will benefit not only the bottom line but the health, comfort and longevity of the employees. Seriously consider a wellness program for your company in order to take advantage of these effects. If you have reservations about forming a compliant plan, contact a fitness/health care consultant to help build an appropriate plan for your employees.

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About the Author: Christopher Williams