Healthy effort: Small steps make big differences
Implementing a worksite wellness program can sound daunting. Where do I start? What exactly do I do? If you’re an employer, it might feel like just another thing to add to your seemingly insurmountable to-do list.
Worksite wellness programs don’t necessarily require a lot of time or money, however. They doesn’t have to be difficult. You can do it. With a little planning, organization and motivation to make a change, any employer can contribute to the health and well-being of their employees. And as research shows, it’s well worth the investment.
Consider that worksite wellness programs:
Reduce absenteeism among employees. Healthier employees take fewer sick days.
Contribute to higher employee morale. Healthier employees are happier and tend to be more productive.
Lower health care costs, saving employers money on insurance claims and premiums.
But where to begin?
For Mesa County, a committee of county employees meets monthly to plan worksite wellness programming that can be marketed to all county departments. A manager with the Mesa County Health Department oversees that group, but it’s far from her full-time job.
The group hosts a handful of challenges throughout the year.
A weight loss challenge that began in early January with weigh-ins, will wrap up in April with final weigh-outs. Employees formed teams and encouraged each other to improve their diets and exercise to drop unwanted pounds. Peer support can be a powerful motivator.
County employees also recently wrapped up a healthy hearts challenge — a six-week program that encouraged participants to drink more water, get more sleep, reduce stress and stretch, among other healthy behaviors.
At the health department, organizers supplemented weekly challenges by providing infused water in different break areas one week, fresh fruit another week and even a relaxation room a third week. Yoga classes were offered over the noon hour and daily walks were organized.
The yoga classes, which employees paid for because they were taught by a local instructor, were popular enough they will continue later this spring — as will the mid-afternoon walks.
Other worksite wellness challenges the county hosts for its employees throughout the year include a stress challenge aimed at helping employees lower stress levels; a marathon challenge that encourages employees to log the miles they walk, run or bike; and a bike-to-work challenge that includes participation in a bike-to-work day in June.
The health department offers a community worksite wellness group that can provide resources to local employers interested in implementing worksite wellness programs. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If programmatic offerings such as challenges aren’t your cup of tea, however, there are other ways to promote healthy lifestyles for employees:
Implement a no-smoking policy and offer resources to help employees quit. For resources and more information on quitting smoking, visit the website at www.tobaccofreeco.org.
Serve salads or lighter sandwiches during lunch meetings at work. That could serve as the beginning of a culture change.
Allow flexible work schedules and telecommuting.
Organize group walks or stretches.
Make sure vending machines offer healthy options. Consider removing chips, soda and other unhealthy snack items.
Encourage employees to take the stairs. Consider the StairWELL to Better Health project. In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study to see if making physical changes to a stairwell at an Atlanta company would increase the number of people who chose the stairs over the elevator. Over three and a half years, the stairwell was painted and carpeted, framed artwork and motivational signs were hung and music was pumped into the stairwell. The stairs had become a more inviting space and more employees used them. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov and type “StairWELL” into the search bar at the top right-hand corner of the page.
The bottom line with worksite wellness is that anything counts. Start somewhere and you’ll discover little steps can add up to big differences.