Employers: Promote Employee Health for a Happier, More Productive Workforce

Health issues consistently make headlines these days, from Americans' struggles with obesity to increasing rates of diseases such as diabetes. This holds especially true for employers, as they wrestle with maintaining healthcare coverage for their workforce in the face of rising healthcare costs. As an employer, you probably already know that less healthy employees are more likely to miss work, be less productive on the job and have higher medical bills and workers' compensation claims.

Research shows that encouraging employees to make healthier lifestyle choices can improve their physical and mental health. Employers who can help their staff get healthier tend to enjoy increased productivity, reduced insurance costs and savings on their long-term health costs. With this in mind, here are 12 tips for how you can help your employees live healthier lives and create a more productive workplace.

  1. Put health on the agenda. Don't just talk about budgets, assignments and deadlines at staff meetings - make health and wellness a standing item on meeting agendas. Invite speakers and experts to your meetings to talk about health and wellness issues. Recognize employees' successes and achievements, as well. Did a staff member complete a marathon or quit smoking? Congratulate them during the meeting to show your staff that you support such healthy feats.
  2. Go smoke-free. Make your workplace a smoke-free environment. Pay for smoking cessation classes.
  3. Update vending machines. Offer alternatives to the usual candy bars and sugary sodas in snack machines. A 2007 survey by Nationwide Better Health found that 72 percent of employees eat an unhealthy snack at work at least once a week.
  4. Serve healthy food at office functions. Bringing donuts to the morning staff meeting may be quick and easy, but multigrain breads and fruit can be just as simple to prepare. Similarly, replace the candy jars around the office with healthier snacks, such as pretzels or popcorn. If your workplace has a cafeteria, provide healthier food there, too.
  5. Don't stress out. Recognize the health effects of stress during particularly intense periods. Does a big deadline loom? Are long hours likely for a while? Help employees deal with stress during such tense times. Cater healthy meals, so employees are less inclined to eat dinner from the vending machine. Bring in a massage therapist for chair massages. Hire a yoga instructor for 30-minute sessions. Or, designate a nap room.
  6. Ensure that your workplace is a healthy place. Make sure employees are trained on the proper way to lift heavy items. Provide ergonomically correct chairs, keyboards and other equipment. Encourage employees who sit or stare at monitors for long periods to take a break and move around at least once an hour.
  7. Stop the clock. Give employees time off for preventive healthcare, or don't require them to use leave time for such medical visits. Consider giving each staff member up to eight additional hours of annual personal time to use specifically for appointments such as physical exams, health screenings and flu shots. Include dental appointments, too, as oral health checkups are important to one's overall health.
  8. Be flexible. Don't let employees use a rigid work schedule as an excuse to avoid health and wellness practices. Offer flexible hours so they can hit the gym at lunch or on the way to or from work. Add an extra 15 minutes or so to an employee's lunchtime if part of that time is used for fitness, such as walking or doing yoga.
  9. Make it personal. Contract with a wellness provider to offer personal health risk assessments for employees. These questionnaires, sometimes called PHAs or HRAs, assess lifestyle habits and health risks and produce a wellness program tailored to each individual.
  10. Pay all or part of the cost of fitness club memberships. Ask a gym near your office if it will offer group discounts or other incentives for your employees. Be open to financially supporting other healthy activities that your staff may like, too.
  11. Get involved. Participate in national, state and local health and wellness awareness campaigns. Most people are aware of designated dates such as the American Heart Association's "Wear Red Day" in February each year. On its website at www.americanheart.org, the association provides a list of ways companies can get involved in the fight against heart disease.
  12. Resurrect the company softball team. Organize teams for other sports, such as volleyball and soccer, for better odds of offering something for everyone. Challenge other companies in the area to matches or games. Support informal teams as well. For example, encourage employees to form walking clubs or to go for bike rides as a group after work. People are more likely to stick to a fitness routine if they exercise with a partner or in a group.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana offers a workplace wellness program to all of its customers at no extra charge. Called My Health Commitment, the program gives employers all the tools they need to help their workers make healthier choices. It starts with a secure, online Personal Health Assessment (PHA) that gives employees powerful insight into their current health status and provides a customized report covering future health risks.

The My Health Commitment program also gives participants access to local fitness resources, online wellness trackers, an exclusive discount program on health and wellness products and services, and an extensive online community where they can interact with others who have health interests and concerns. Find out more at www.bcbsla.com - just click on Wellness Program. And if you're not a Blue Cross member, just do some digging and find out what workplace wellness programs might be available to you. Employers will almost certainly find it worth the effort.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

Founded in New Orleans in 1934, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBSLA) is the oldest and largest Louisiana-based health insurance company. BCBSLA is a not-for-profit, fully taxed mutual insurer, owned by policyholders and governed by a local Board of Directors. It is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

The company provides group and individual health insurance plans, life and disability insurance, group voluntary products and administrative services to more than 1.1 million members. With headquarters in Baton Rouge and eight district offices, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana employs more than 1,700 Louisianians who are committed to improving the lives of its customers by providing them with health guidance and affordable access to quality care.

Learn more on the company's website at www.bcbsla.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bluecrossla. Follow Blue Cross on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BCBSLA and CEO Mike Reitz at www.twitter.com/MikeReitzCEO.