For entrepreneurs, employees are absolutely critical, and besides the importance for them personally of staying healthy, it’s also the best thing for the business. Studies have shown that healthy workers lead to a stronger workforce. A Centers for Disease Control study even found that the average obese man misses 66 percent more workdays a year than a healthy man.
Yet, wellness programs are tough to get right. Some wellness programs lead to resentment, while others alienate employees when the results are tied to health insurance benefits and costs. One Wall Street Journal survey found that 72 percent of people polled were opposed to linking health insurance premiums with meeting personal health goals.
This is where entrepreneurs have a leg up over big, corporate programs. In a typical small office, wellness initiatives can be more effective than in corporate counterparts if everyone has the chance to buy into the program instead of being required to follow an HR directive.
Here’s what you should do next.
Step 1: Call the doctor.
It’s important to work closely with a physician. And this is easier in smaller companies. A doctor can assess the health of participating employees and help create plans and goals tailored to each of their individual needs. That reduces the risk of adversely impacting an employee’s health as he or she transitions to the new plan.
Also, don’t neglect to bring the doctor back on a recurring basis. Monitoring individual progress is crucial, not only to be sure people are staying on track, but to ensure employees aren’t overdoing it.
Step 2: Encourage moderate exercise.
There are certain people, regardless of how late they work or how exhausted they are, who will always find time to work out. Others need extra help getting motivated.
That’s why it’s important to take time to do the small things that help employees stay at least moderately active during the day. Encourage staff to get up and move about every 45 minutes. If they’re in the middle of a project or meeting, a simple stretch will suffice.
Another option is to offer alternatives to traditional desks, making the office a bit more “active.” Swap out desk chairs for stability balls offer employees guidance through a core workout. Standing desks, while sometimes expensive, are a great way to curb the negative effects of sitting all day.
Step 3: Promote smarter snacking.
Any dietitian will tell you that the right way to lose weight is not just to eat less, but also to "eat smarter." People are going to snack no matter what, so it’s important to limit bad options like chips, candy or pseudo-healthy snacks like sugary granola or energy bars.
Instead, stock the office with better snacks, like fresh fruit and vegetables, low-fat yogurts, hummus or raw nuts. Companies like NatureBox deliver prepackaged, healthy snacks for a low price -- and there's even a corporate membership option.
Step 4: Leverage technology.
With the right apps and tools, smartphones can become electronic health monitors. There are countless software platforms now available that help users monitor physical activity and exercise, meals and even their moods throughout the day. Encouraging or even subsidizing the cost of wearable devices will help employees track their health data.
While you may not be possible to provide each employee with his or her own fitness tracker, you can help wearables-users integrate their health data with the company’s program and understand exactly what their data is telling them.
Step 5: Reward employees frequently.
Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. People love to be acknowledged for a job well done. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture; a simple “nice job” often suffices.
However, there is a limit to even the most positive of reinforcement. When that limit is reached, try implementing a simple incentive program that rewards employees for healthy behavior. This can involve gift cards, a modest financial bonus or additional paid-time off.
One other important thing to remember is that while positive reinforcement can work, it is never OK to pass judgment or call out negatives in a person’s choices. Leave that up to the doctors.
While there may be some hurdles, the benefits of a happy and healthy workforce cannot be overstated. If managed properly, wellness programs are a great way for entrepreneurs to keep their employees healthy, motivated and productive.