Why Employee Healthy Habits at Work Matters
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When businesses invest in the promotion of healthy habits in the workplace, it’s not just the employees who benefit.

There are a number of actions employers can take, big and small, to create a more healthful workplace. The benefits of doing so range from a more engaged workforce to lower healthcare expenditures. But be sure to properly promote your healthy habits programs, and communicate their benefits to get the most from your efforts.

“People spend about 2,000 hours a year on the job, so the workplace is an effective place to promote good health,” says Tom Carter, vice president, HealthWorks and Kaiser-On-the-Job at Kaiser Permanente.

Creating a health-focused workplace doesn’t have to be a huge investment. To get started, “look around your work environment for ways to support healthy choices,” says Carter. Simple and affordable ways to promote health and wellbeing include the following:

1. Encourage healthful eating

Offer healthful choices in your vending machines and cafeterias, as well as at any catered meetings or events. Dr. Keith Helton, founder and CEO of One to One Personal Physician Network suggests holding lunch-and-learns to provide employees with pointers for eating better at home, too.

2. Encourage physical activity

Educate employees on the benefits of making even small changes to their daily routines. Purchase pedometers for all of your employees so that if they want, they can track their total steps each day. Take stretch breaks at long meetings and, if possible, pay for gym memberships, or give out gift certificates to yoga or fitness classes.

3. Promote a smoke-free environment

Put a tobacco-free policy in place, and include in the written policy contact information for local support services to help employees cope with the change.

4. Support local fitness events and challenges

Support local fitness challenges and contests that promote healthy living, and celebrate success by becoming a business sponsor and encouraging employees to participate. You can even ask whether the event will agree to offer a discount to your employees.

5. Focus on prevention

Try to get ahead of health issues. Make health-focused materials and other resources available so that employees have the opportunity to educate themselves on ways to prevent illness. Purchase subscriptions to magazines that promote healthy eating and active lifestyles and provide information regarding preventative measures. Keep these magazines in the employee break room so they’re easily accessible.

How to increase employee participation in your healthy habits program

Most employees are eager to adopt healthy habits, but in many cases, they’re not even aware that a few small changes can have a big impact. To get maximum interest and participation in your healthy habits programs, tailor them to address the specific needs of your employees. Health doesn’t just mean weight loss. Whatever you do, though, make sure that your employees’ participation is voluntary and that you are not asking them to disclose health information. You may also want to consult an employment attorney to see if there are any employment or related laws that you should consider when establishing your program. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows employers to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs by offering rewards worth up to 30 percent of the cost of health coverage (employee + employer’s premium share). This increases to a maximum of 50 percent if they participate in programs to prevent or reduce smoking, notes Carter.

“Rewards in general are good for getting people to initially participate, but sustainable change comes from creating a healthy culture, which is more about your corporate policies, your environment, and how you treat your employees,” reminds Carter. “Make the healthy choice the easy choice, and employees will make better decisions.”

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