Employers push wellness programs to boost health of employees

Disease-associated absenteeism costs us around $2 billion a year, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates. To be more specific, that accounts to around $16 to $81 for a small employer and $17 to $286 for a large employer, per employee, per year. Think about all the apples and vegetables you could buy with that! Financial jokes aside, there is a push for workplaces to have more wellness-focused programs. The key here, forward-thinking businessmen say, is not the amount of money saved (though this helps) but improving employee health, which consequently enhances productivity and lengthens retention.

“Exercise in the office isn’t a new idea. But it’s such a clear win-win situation — in terms of health, morale and productivity,” says CEO of HootSuite, Ryan Holmes in an article on BBC.

Holmes recently wrote an article on Medium, called “Why it’s time we paid employees to exercise at work: Companies that sweat together, stay together.” In this passionate plea, Holmes asks more employers to set up wellness programs in their workplaces. More importantly, exercise should become an essential part of the working day. Further, bosses should pay for it.

Wait, before you click the “back” button, consider this: Holmes says that paying employees to exercise within their work day is more than worth it. Within his own social media tech company (which has around 700 employees), he set up a small on-site gym which people are encouraged to use before, during, and after work hours.

“We made it clear that anyone could block off an hour for exercise during the day, provided it didn’t conflict with meetings and they made up the time (by having lunch at their desks, for instance),” says Holmes. “I see employees return from workouts refreshed and better focused on their jobs. Time lost on exercise is made back and more in terms of improved productivity.”

Holmes even asserts that he would have never been able to build his company to where it is without exercising himself to “maintain composure and focus in the midst of chaos.”

Burn, baby, burn

Eighty percent of American adults are physically inactive, according to State of Obesity. This percentage of people do not meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening. People blame their inactivity on work. Regular exercise disrupts their work commitments, they say. This is not, and should never be, used as an excuse, warns Holmes — especially if employers take their employees’ health seriously and design exercise-focused programs in their offices.

A 2013 final study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that wellness programs among local employers can “help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality in the United States…lifestyle management programs as part of workplace wellness can reduce risk factors, such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors, such as exercise.” The study, entitled “Workplace Wellness Programs Study” was published in RAND Health.

Another study made by Bristol University showed that employees who regularly exercised at work were more productive, calm, and efficient.

Asian companies have already taken the hint; many Japanese companies have “exercise breaks” and China reintroduced mandatory exercises twice a day among state-owned companies.

Little steps to wellness

Companies need not deliver such a powerful culture shock to their workplace. Wellness programs can start with gradual changes. This can be asking employees to stand up every few hours to breaking long periods of extended sitting times with short bouts of physical activity. Employers can even invest in higher desks, which forces employees to stand.

Another recommendation would be to ban “cake culture” in the office. Prof Nigel Hunt of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons says that the habit of bringing cakes into the office increases the risk for obesity and dental problems.

Sources include:



SHRM.org [PDF]




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