Five ways to take advantage of workplace wellness programs

More people across the country are gaining access to workplace wellness programs that encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles and, ideally, help curb health care costs. According to a recent study, 87 percent of employers are committed to workplace wellness efforts and 73 percent offer programs.

These efforts are already producing results. Among people with access to employer-sponsored wellness programs, 57 percent said the initiatives had a positive effect on their health, according to the 2019 UnitedHealthcare Wellness Checkup Survey. Among those, 82 percent said they were motivated to pay more attention to their health, 63 percent said they increased physical activity, 59 percent improved their diets and 30 percent reported improved sleep.

At Rocky Mountain Health Plans (RMHP), we’re committed to offering innovative ways to build healthy businesses, including workplace wellness programs. For 45 years, RMHP has been dedicated to providing access to high-quality health care and working toward healthier communities across the Western Slope. As part of the UnitedHealthcare family of plans, we continue that mission today.

We believe a workplace wellness program is a platform for healthy living. It can serve as a source of prevention and as a creative opportunity to build a healthy organization with camaraderie — all of which helps to create stronger and healthier communities. As people often seek to improve their health habits following the winter holidays and into the new year, what follows are tips to help employees become healthier and make the most of their wellness programs. 

Modify lifestyle choices: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such chronic diseases as heart disease and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Many chronic diseases are caused by such risk factors as lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and tobacco use. In light of these statistics, employees should consider ways to make healthier choices throughout the workday, such as starting or participating in walking meetings, using onsite fitness equipment, taking advantage of biometric screenings, participating in meditation classes and choosing healthier snacks. Addressing whole-person, centric wellness opportunities can improve physical and mental health outcomes.

Earn incentives: Some mid-sized and large employers offer monetary incentives for participating in and meeting goals through workplace wellness programs. Other initiatives provide discounts on gym memberships and premium discounts for meeting various health benchmarks, such as a non-nicotine use or normal blood pressure. Small employers also offer incentives, although they might have more limited financial resources. In these circumstances, smaller employers should check with their benefits partners to learn what free or low-cost value-add options are available to promote a culture of well-being.

Get connected for better health: Research shows meaningful relationships could be crucial to overall health. By incorporating social interactions into well-being or fitness routines, employees might be more likely to stick with it. The Wellness Checkup Survey found that 57 percent of respondents said they were more likely to participate in a fitness routine if there was a social component either in person or virtually. Potential strategies include participating in walking groups, going to group fitness classes or joining recreational sports leagues. 

Beat burnout: According to the Wellness Checkup Survey, 88 percent of employees said meditation or mindfulness improved their overall health. To encourage mindfulness, ask your company to devote office space for “relaxation rooms” to help employees lower their stress levels or inquire about adding an online or phone-based mindfulness program. For a do-it-yourself “mindfulness kit” to take with you to work, grab health-related items such as caffeine-free tea, a stress ball or gratitude journal.       

Remain well aware: Workplace wellness programs provide education opportunities on employer policies. When establishing wellness goals in alignment with business objectives, start by identifying staffing needs to achieve business goals and provide solutions through the wellness program. For example, if an employer has a strict no-tobacco policy, the policy also should provide tobacco cessation resources. Such resources could include local tobacco cessation groups and covered benefits, including patches and tracking tools.