Need a prescription for profit? Start a workplace wellness program

Jan 11, 2013
Need a prescription for profit? Start a workplace wellness program

Whether they offer on-site yoga classes or annual cholesterol screenings, employers who encourage workers to stay healthy can pump up their company’s profitability.

Three out of four small businesses that provide employee wellness programs say those efforts improve the bottom line, according to a September survey from Humana Inc. and the National Small Business Association. The survey, which polled 1,000 companies with fewer than 100 employees, found that such programs enhance productivity, boost morale, reduce absenteeism and lower long-term health care costs.

So, how can you warm up your business for workplace wellness? Here are some simple tips for inspiring employees to be healthy and fit.

• Get a move on. Incorporate physical activity into the workday, says Small Business Be Well, a new initiative for Virginia companies who want to promote health and wellness in the workplace. SBBW suggests scheduling “walk and talk” meetings as an alternative to traditional sit-downs in the conference room. You can also post signs near elevators that encourage people to take the stairs.

• Offer on-site health services. Ask local hospitals, clinics or health organizations if they can visit your business to provide diabetes screenings, flu shots, mobile mammograms, tobacco-cessation workshops and other services for employees. Local programs geared toward businesses include Bon Secours OccuMed/ Workforce Health, the Virginia Business Coalition on Health and Chesapeake Regional Medical Center’s Workplace Wellness program. Or contact your city’s health department.

• Host workplace workouts. Arrange for a fitness instructor to hold an exercise class in your building’s gym, in a meeting room or even outside. Make sure to choose the particular workout, be it yoga, Zumba or strength training, based on an office poll. No space for push-ups or planks? Consider investing in gym memberships for your employees.

• Start an office rivalry. Organize a fitness challenge for interested employees, such as reducing body fat, lowering cholesterol or losing weight. Participants will enjoy competing against – and motivating – each other. Other employees can follow their progress on a special Facebook page or a chart posted in the breakroom.

• Promote good nutrition. Install a vending machine with healthy snack options like nuts, dried fruit and bottled water. Seek out caterers that can provide healthier fixings for lunch meetings and other company events. Plant a company garden that grows fresh herbs and veggies.

• Encourage healthier commutes. Provide bicycle racks and bike routes for employees who might ride to work. Offer monthly bus passes or discounts on other public transportation. Organize carpools. Create a map of local lunch spots within walking distance. The Centers for Disease Control’s “Healthier Worksite Initiative” includes a workplace walkabilty audit, plus tons of other tools and ideas for employers.

• Rate their risk. Invite employees to participate in a voluntary health-risk assessment. Lawrence Transportation, a Roanoke company profiled on Small Business Be Well’s website, introduced its Alive and Wellness Program in 2011. It includes a risk assessment and followup appointments. The program helped identify a serious heart condition in an otherwise healthy 40-year-old employee. It also revealed a potentially fatal aneurysm in another worker.

SmallBusinessBeWell.com will officially launch in the next month or so, but the site has been live since mid-December and is already compiling some useful advice and resources. It will also include profiles of employers who have successfully implemented wellness programs, such as Lawrence Transportation.

Suzanne Mercure, hired in July 2012 as director of Small Business Be Well, describes the site as a “one-stop shop” to help Virginia’s smallest businesses establish workplace wellness programs.

“Typically, they don’t have the resources that a larger company has,” Mercure said of SBBW’s target audience of companies with two to 50 employees. “If it’s a really small employer, the CEO is the human resources department, the billing department, maybe just about everything. So they don’t have time or the expertise to do this. We want to be a really valuable resource for them.”

The site will offer ideas for budget-conscious small business owners.

“We will give quick tips on how to start something that’s low- to no-cost for employers,” said SBBW assistant director Khalilah LeGrand. “And then as people get more comfortable with the idea of wellness in the workplace and changing the culture of the workplace, they can look at other areas of our website that might give them an idea of, ‘OK, now that you’ve done this, why don’t you start employing other things?’ Healthier snack machine options, the importance of health risk assessments, things of that nature.”

According to a 2003 article in the “Art of Health Promotion Newsletter,” employee wellness programs can reduce workers compensation costs by 30 percent and sick days by 28 percent.

Those programs should also play a prominent role in health care reform, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed in its Nov. 20 rules for implementing the Affordable Care Act. HHS recommended that group health plans expand incentives for businesses whose employees participate in workplace wellness programs that include benefits such as free gym memberships, health seminars and smoking-cessation assistance.

“We really have two major objectives,” Mercure said. “One is to get employers to understand the value of their employees’ health as a business asset. The second is to provide information and tools so everyone can do something to support employee health and wellness."

Did you know … Your employees could be eligible for individual health insurance plans from Virginia Health & Wellness Passport. The program is available in Hampton Roads and Richmond for uninsured individuals who work for a small business (two to 50 employees) and meet certain income requirements. Enrollment includes coverage through Anthem/ Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and participants also receive a $500 subsidy. The project is financed by the same grant that funds Small Business Be Well, a $912,658 State Health Access Program grant. The passport program ends in August 2013.



Finance