December 1, 2008

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Scale Up

Wellness Programs Keep Employees Healthy

Sarah Ryther-Francom

December 1, 2008

If you can keep your employees healthy, you’ll be keeping your bottom line healthy, too. That’s because healthy em-ployees are generally more productive and happy while working the nine-to-five grind. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adult Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work, many in sedentary careers. And inactivity increases serious risks for medical problems, including high blood pressure and diabetes, not to mention obesity. To help your employees juggle their workload and health, consider starting a company wellness program. The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) defines a comprehensive wellness program as one that includes health education, a supportive social and physical environment, integration of the worksite program into the organization’s structure and a health screening program. So far, Utah’s companies are in good shape; according to UDOH, many of Utah’s companies have already implemented a wellness program. In fact, more than 30 percent of Utah’s medium and large companies are working to keep their employees healthy by offering a wellness program. On the Job Training 1-800 CONTACTS is one company that says keeping employees fit is a priority. “We are constantly seeing the advantages and benefits of having a good [wellness program],” says Max Neves, vice president of human resources at 1-800 CONTACTS. “Our employees love what we offer. We have a significant retention of employees, and I think that it’s due largely to our program.” The company’s wellness program includes a state-of-the-art workout facility with treadmills, weights, lockers, showers and more. The facility, which is open 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, also includes fitness counselors on hand to answer any questions employees have regarding their overall health. Additionally, the company employs a full-time chef who coordinates meals with the company’s wellness manager. “Our chef works to come up with healthy meals. We make sure that calories and fat content is clearly available, so employees can make sure they’re eating right,” says Neves. The on-site cafeteria includes eight healthy entrees each day, plus soups, salads and a sandwich bar. Employees are also always on the move, participating in numerous physical activities, such as company Olympics, walk-a-thons and more. Price Check According to the AHA, obesity costs American businesses $12.7 billion in medical expenses and $225.8 billion in health-related productivity losses every year. But according to the association and UDOH, implementing a company wellness program can have a huge impact on those costs; in fact, according to UDOH, for every dollar spent on a health wellness program, companies can see a $6 return. That’s because employees are more productive and are likely to stay employed with the company. Studies also suggest that implementing a company wellness program and promoting physical activity goes hand-in-hand with promoting a positive work culture and work/life balance. By creating a wellness program, companies also reduce absenteeism and reduce turnover costs, according to the AHA. Neves says that the benefits definitely outweigh what the 1-800 CONTACTS’ program costs the company. “We know that we’re raising consciousness and awareness of health by promoting these benefits. Plus, we’re keeping health care costs down,” he says. “Our [wellness program] has helped us build a great culture here and has helped our employees find a good work life balance.” Tips to Increase Worksite Wellness • Establish corporate policies to create a supportive social and physical environment. • Establish a worksite wellness committee. • Include funding for wellness programs in the corporate budget. • Promote weight loss by holding slim down programs. • Provide health education programs. • Encourage healthy eating by providing an on-site healthy cafeteria or offering free fruit for snacking. • Promote health by organizing walks, corporate Olympics, games, tournaments, etc. • Hold annual employee health risk assessments.
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