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Financial Fix: How to Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle in the Workplace

Healthcare continues to be one of the fastest rising costs for both employers and employees in the U.S. According to a June PricewaterhouseCoopers report, healthcare costs are expected to rise another 6 percent in 2019, with many of these costs being absorbed by employees.

While there isn’t much employers can do to reverse the escalating costs of America’s healthcare system, they can implement policies that control their own costs. By introducing a work environment supporting healthy life choices, you can both improve your employees’ health and your business’s bottom line.

Healthy Employees Lead to Healthy Profits

Sick days are expensive, both for employees and employers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that productivity losses from personal and family sickness cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion total.

Perhaps more astounding than the costs is the fact that much of this sickness is largely preventable. The CDC states that about 75% of health expenditures are spent on chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, obesity, and depression. While genetics play a role, some of these ailments can be relieved with healthier lifestyle choices. Instituting an employee wellness program can be an effective way to nudge your employees toward healthier choices during their workday, as well as their day-to-day lives.

Minnesota-based, global manufacturer Turck, Inc., provides an excellent example of how companies can institute a robust employee wellness plan that helps everyone out. The company added a health clinic and coach, prevention messaging, and even a pharmacy that provided prescriptions for chronic ailments like high blood pressure for free. After five years since the start of the program, Turck has linked about 8% of their profit to its wellness program.

Implementing an Employee Wellness Plan

Not every company has the resources to mimic Turck’s experience. However, there are lower cost ways to develop your own program.

A few examples that have worked well in other workplaces include:

  • Providing fitness trackers and offering incentives for hitting employee-set goals. You can also hold contests to gamify the process.
  • Organizing group walks or bike rides, and specifying times of day when employees are free to exercise. Colorado brewery New Belgium even gives employees a free bike to encourage biking to work.
  • Offering reimbursements on gym memberships. Some businesses have even installed their own gyms for employees to use during lunch breaks.
  • Organizing healthy potluck lunches, where employees are invited to bring in their favorite healthy dish.

The Harvard School of Public Health also offers a convenient guide for instituting your own employee wellbeing program through their SafeWell toolkit.

Make Healthy Living a Choice, Not an Obligation

In 2013, Pennsylvania State University announced a new employee wellness program that was soon awash in controversy. The problem? Employees were fined $100 per month for failing to fill out an online questionnaire, get a physical exam, and submit to biometric testing, which included a fasting blood test.

Understandably, employees pushed back against this punitive approach. Within weeks, the university killed the policy, leaving it in the trash heap of good intentions gone wrong.

The lesson here is to present your wellness program as a choice, not a punishment. Perhaps, these practices could be encouraged and incentivized instead. This would help support the overall message that healthy living is a series of choices. If you create an environment of support, empowerment, and information, you won’t need to sell a healthy lifestyle to your employees. They’ll choose it for themselves and both the company and the employees will come out ahead.

Financial Fix is contributed by Mike Trueba, CCIM vice president business lending, for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.9 billion financial institution which serves a growing Membership of nearly 150,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels, as well. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA. VantageWest.org

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