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10 steps to a healthier employee population in 2009

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk  December 21, 2008 12:28 PM

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By Debra Wein

Strained economy? Tight budgets? Not sure if wellness can fit into your routine at work? Read on to find out how worksite wellness programs can save your company money and help you improve the health of your employees. Regardless of company size and budget, there are benefits to be had and a wide array of programs you can do to promote a healthier workforce in the New Year.

Three of the major benefits of worksite wellness are:

1. Substantial cost savings. Worksite wellness can lead to a better bottom line. The return on investment has been well documented thru decades of research in this area and ranges from <1:1 to 1:6.5. From negotiating better insured premium rates to identifying cost avoidance by moderating your medical trend, companies can experience savings in a variety of ways.

2. Fewer missed work days. The seven most common chronic diseasesócancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, and mental illnessóare all caused or worsened by obesity and are costing employers $1.1 trillion in lost productivity. Most importantly, research shows that much of this cost can be avoided.

3. Happier employees. Happy and healthy employees feel better about work and are less likely to look for a job elsewhere. Having a worksite wellness program sends a strong signal to employees that the organizationís concerns extend beyond the financial bottom line.

So, how can you get on the wellness trail in 2009? Try any of the following tips and ideas.

Ask employees what they want
A simple survey, asking employees about their interest, their time limits and their goals will go a long way in helping you design a program that is well utilized. Design your own survey using Constant Contact, Zoomerang, or Survey Monkey, or contact your healthcare vendor or wellness company for assistance.

Find the resources within
Why reinvent the wheel and why spend more money than you need to? Contact the resources which are already available to you, such as your EAP, healthcare provider and cafeteria and ask them if they can provide any wellness activities or services for you. For another layer, requiring a bit more work, you can contact local businesses or professionals (yoga instructors, massage therapists, fitness centers, etc,) and national health organizations (American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and the National Cancer Institute) for materials and possible on-site visits for a health fair or lecture.

Provide monthly newsletter or recipe.
Purchase a newsletter or tap your employees for interesting recipes or health tips.

Create a monthly theme
Access the yearly calendar at, from the US Depít of Health and Human Services. Conduct monthly seminars with guest speakers related to that theme.

Start a walking group
This could be as easy as coordinating a day(s) of the week and time and mapping out a few loops. Go to for help.

Introduce a 12-week challenge
Switch from lunch and learn seminars to a longer lasting behavioral approach. Twelve weeks is the right amount of time for employees to adopt a new lifestyle and make it a permanent habit. A team approach can motivate employees and provide the necessary support for employees to follow through on these activities. Think beyond The Biggest Loser which simply focuses on losing the most amount of weight and focus on having employees adopt healthy behaviors. Scientifically, thatís a better and smarter approach which will more likely promote significant lifestyle changes.

Bring fitness to them
Bring in a yoga instructor or personal trainer to teach a 4 week seminar on fitness where employees can actually practice the body weight exercises provided by the trainer. Look for a personal trainer with specific credentials from the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine). For yoga instructors, look for someone who has a certification and a substantial amount of experience working with a population similar to your employees.

Be creative
Create a game show ... Nutrition Jeopardy, The Price Is Right for Fitness, etc. Creative, fun programs are a surefire way to attract employees. Fun prizes and incentives work well, too. Check out the web for free, downloadable templates for these games.

Help employees save money on fitness
Contact your health care provider and local fitness centers to see if they are able to provide discounts or reimbursements for weight loss programs or fitness center memberships.

Donít go it alone
Use a company with fresh ideas and to help you develop a comprehensive approach. While wellness may be a passion or an important focus for you and your company, no one knows about the updates, possibilities and strategies for a successful wellness program better than a wellness professional.

The bottom line is that if you can inspire your employees to be healthy and help them appreciate that the organization genuinely cares about their well-being, then your company can realize healthy savings. Be well!

Debra Wein, MS, RD, LDN, CWPC, is president and founder of Wellness Workdays, Inc., a leading provider of worksite wellness programs, and is an internationally recognized expert on health and wellness. She is also a Certified Wellness Program Coordinator through the National Wellness Institute and WebMD, and nearly has 20 years of experience working in the health and wellness industry.

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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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