Julia Horié, P.E.
Happy New Year, everyone! With the arrival of each New Year, health is usually one topic that is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Thanksgiving and Christmas were filled with celebration and gluttony, and many promise themselves to wipe the slate clean and start anew with the New Year. However, within a couple months, most people’s enthusiasm dwindle and soon return to the old bad habits until the next year.
One way to help your company keep healthy year round is to start a corporate wellness program. While a corporate wellness program will not suddenly turn all employees into buff gym rats, a little goes a long way, and eventually, those small gains will have a significant impact on individual health long term.
Increase Health Self-Awareness
A corporate wellness program does not have to always involve strenuous activity. It can involve some physical activity, of course, but different health-related activities such as health assessments, office immunizations, and education programs can be just as important.
Employees that participate in events requiring physical activity may actually find some enjoyment during their participation! Their participation may also serve as a reminder of how out of shape they are and encourage them to improve. Employees may also find a common sport they enjoy and form league teams.
When it comes to health assessments, some people are very open to finding out their current bill of health while others avoid any type of check-up for years. With a little incentive like a gift card raffle or end of the year cash bonus, it just might be enough to get people curious enough to take a blood test to gauge where their state of health lies. Having a program that requires a basic health assessment gives people a nudge to get checked out which may help prevent major underlying health problems later on. Making assessments and immunizations appointments on site at the office allows employees to have quick, convenient, and easy access to little steps to improve their health.
Almost all diseases are preventable and can be more effectively treated if caught early. A simple blood test can detect high blood sugars, high cholesterol, and low white blood cell count of an otherwise healthy person. Just a little bit of activity each day can help regulate insulin production to prevent diabetes and get rid of free radicals in the body that would otherwise cause cancer. I would quote a book or research, but a simple internet search will show you an overwhelming amount of evidence that early prevention and intervention is key in maintaining health.
Encourage A Healthy Work Culture
Other activities, such as a pedometer competition, really can foster a healthier work culture. Friendly team competition can help colleagues to be accountable for one another and encourage healthy long term habits. During an unofficial pedometer and weight-loss competition at Costello last fall, different teams found creative ways to work in additional steps during the day, including printing to a printer furthest from one’s office, parking farther away from the office, and walking to lunch. There was also friendly sabotage among teams—some people playfully placed candy on an opposing team member’s desk; another decided to bring in hot fresh doughnuts for the opposing team.
The competition made people more conscious of their eating habits and daily physical activity. Many learned what habits to change in order to lose weight—drink more water and eat less fried foods were habits changed by some. Other learned that a little bit of extra physical activity each day amounted to some weight loss without a terrible amount of effort. Even though the competition has ended, some of my teammates give each other “the look” when we are about to eat something we really shouldn’t!
Help Reduce Health Care Costs
By far, one of the biggest motivators to start a corporate wellness program is to help reduce the cost of health care. Employees who are more active and health conscious will take less sick days and will also be more productive. With better health, people will be less likely to take out big medical claims related to a major illness. The Affordable Care Act recognizes the benefits of a wellness program and provides incentives for companies who implement wellness programs.
A wellness program takes time and effort to start. It takes time to figure out how to engage employees, and what interests the majority. It also takes time to see what will work with the current company culture. However, the end result is happier, healthier, and more health conscious employees. It shows that the company cares about everyone’s well-being. When you’re re-working the budget for 2016, consider a corporate wellness program. Although a wellness program might cost some money upfront, isn’t a healthier work force worth it?