Given that you're already busy running your business, running a workplace wellness program on top of it may sound like more trouble than it's worth. It's true that you can't wave a magic wand and make all your employees healthy, nor can you force them to change their behavior overnight. Positive health changes take time and effort. But for the employer, it can be time and effort well spent.
If you already provide health benefits, that's a good start. It will help make sure your employees don't ignore health problems until they've turned life-threatening.
But you've probably observed the limits of what doctors can do to promote overall wellness. (Believe us, the doctors are frustrated, too.) Your workers most likely visit the doctor when they've got a big or obvious problem, but soon forget the doctors' advice for ongoing lifestyle or behavioral changes. In fact, some people may use the very availability of treatments like high blood pressure medication as a way to avoid making fundamental lifestyle changes.
Yet you've got an advantage in this game: As an employer, you have communication channels to your employees that almost no one else shares. Your employees may throw out their newspapers, tune out their mothers, and see their doctors only when they can't ignore a problem any longer. But you're harder to tune out. Whether it's via company emails, memos, or meetings, you can use your unique access to convey health information and create a health-minded company culture. For all these reasons, many employers -- nearly 80% of them, at last count -- are turning to new initiatives for promoting employee health and well-being.
Numerous examples of employee wellness programs have appeared in the media, with companies offering on-site health screenings, flu shots, exercise equipment, and meditation classes, switching from junk food to healthy food in their employee cafeterias, giving bonuses to workers who lose weight or reduce their cholesterol, paying for smoking-cessation and other treatment programs, and much more.
You don't have to do all these things, especially if you're running a small business. The basic idea is to respond to your employees' most pressing health needs by providing a select menu of fitness and behavioral activities, plus some education and guidance toward more specialized health treatments or programs.
For example, you can start by making changes or offering activities that are absolutely free, such as holding regular stretch breaks, organizing a walking program (often named by employees as their favorite workplace wellness activity -- hear more on this in Nolo's podcast, "Wellness Programs -- Walking," available on the Nolo podcast page), instituting policies against smoking at work, putting healthy snack choices in your vending machines, and organizing potluck lunches featuring healthy foods. If you want to bring in guest speakers, hospitals and universities are good sources of experts for no or low cost.
Of course, some aspects of running a workplace wellness program will inevitably cost money. For tips, program design principles, and money-saving suggestions, see Healthy Employees, Healthy Business: Easy, Affordable Ways to Promote Workplace Wellness, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
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