Healthy employees, healthy business

Eating a healthy salad at her work desk.

Healthy employees, healthy business: making it happen (and keeping it happening)

A tight economy means tough business choices. But even though companies have had to cut lots of costs over the past year, very few businesses with employee wellness programs have cut back on those. Why? Healthy employee programs are some of the lowest-cost ways to help employees be more productive.

And besides saving lost time they lower other costs of poor health, too.

The background:

Costs are going up because of unhealthy things like smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity (being overweight), poor nutrition, lack of exercise, or behaviors that lead to accidents (not enough sleep, too much caffeine, prescription drug misuse, etc.) In fact, much of today's health spending is on what's called "behavior-related illness" - health problems caused by unhealthy behavior. Meanwhile, one study says:

  • As much as 70 percent of disease can be prevented
  • As much as 50 percent of cancer can be avoided
  • As much as 50 percent of accidents can be prevented

And a Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study says that:

  • 54 percent of employees make an effort to learn about risks, prevent health problems, and feel good mentally and emotionally
  • 44 percent aim to lower their stress
  • 44 percent work on healthy eating
  • 19 percent say they've been in a wellness program in the last 12 months
  • 70 percent say they'd join a wellness program if it came with some kind of reward

So at best we have 54 percent of surveyed employees thinking about their health. We also have steadily rising costs, lost work days and poor productivity. If this picture seems to fit your company, too, you might want to try to "bend the curve" with workplace programs like:

  • Printed or electronic wellness tips and support
  • Personal health coaching
  • Biometric testing
  • Employee assistance (EAP) or other work-life programs
  • Wellness rewards programs
  • On-the-job health fairs
  • Social activities and games that foster healthy behaviors

But how to make them work?

Start with the Cs.

Here are 10 Cs many businesses have found helpful in their wellness programs:

  1. Capture senior level support - get management involved to set an example
  2. Create cohesive, integrated programs - programs that make sense and "hang together"
  3. Collect data - measure everyone's health before starting and keep doing it
  4. Craft an operating plan - sounds simple, but things often fall apart here
  5. Choose the right activities -things your employees can and are willing to do
  6. Create a spirit of friendship and support
  7. Change behavior through coaching and awareness - offer a personalized health coaching approach and make sure employees know about it
  8. Challenge employees with personalized choices - give them the right tools in the way they want them
  9. Choose to reward behavior change - pick good incentives and use them
  10. Consistently evaluate outcomes - keep tracking results, and keep people in touch with their progress

The main goal is to build a system of "positive psychology" that makes everyday life better, which in turn helps everyone's well-being. Happy people are healthier, get over being sick faster, and basically live longer.

Courtesy of Humana