The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are well understood. Years of research from everyone from The Mayo Clinic to the White House have proven that regular exercise can help combat physical injury and disease, improve mood, and boost energy, among other things. This is good news, too, as our companies seek ways to reduce rising healthcare costs with new and colorful wellness programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that workplace health programs can improve morale, organizational reputation, and provide a competitive advantage. One of the more surprising claims is that these health programs can help reduce the impact of presenteeism, a serious problem that could be costing your company a lot of money.

Presenteeism occurs when an employee comes to work sick and is not operating at their full potential. The effects of presenteeism can be seen when someone has the common cold, depressed, or is distracted by personal issues while at work. According to this article from Business Know How, presenteeism is costing employers MORE than absenteeism. Some estimates place the number as high as $250 billion per year. Harvard Business Review published a study performed at Lockheed Martin showing that employees coming to work sick in one year cost the company $34 million.

Relatively recently research has started to connect a healthy lifestyle and the impact on employee engagement, and surprisingly, the financial success of our companies.A study recently released by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, shows that engaged employees are healthier than disengaged employees. They eat better and exercise more often, and their general well-being is improved. While this study is still a bit fuzzy on whether or not increased health leads to increased engagement or vice versa, they do claim that workplaces that are actively working to improve engagement may end up with the added benefit of improving employee health. Engaged employees are healthier, yet very few wellness programs start at the heart of the matter – employee engagement. Therefore, very few of these companies see lasting results when it comes to health and wellness, and of course, lower healthcare premiums over time. Whether starting with employee engagement or a healthcare program that claims to reduce your organizational spend long-term, consider some of the following tips when implementing your “wellness” program”.

  • Craft your Culture of Health. Every workplace is different. What works at one company may not work as well at another. Don’t buy off-the-shelf when it comes to health. Find out what your employees’ interests are, where they spend their time, and what would get them active. Maybe it’s a 20 minute workout in the middle of the day like in this article about Over It Media. Or, maybe you already have a bunch of employees that regularly workout and would like healthier choices in the cafeteria. The key is to listen to what they are saying and craft your health plan accordingly.
  • Create incentives. Make reaching goals fun by adding goals to reach and associated rewards. Make it fun and involve everyone. Social programs at the office can help rally people who otherwise fail to stick to traditional, and private, health goals. Incentives don’t have to be monetary. Maybe something as simple as collecting the names of everyone who is running in the next 5k or half-marathon would be enough and post them to your internal network or publically praising them for their accomplishments.
  • Share the big picture. Like any truly effective people practice, communicating the organziational goals and reasons for the program is important. This allows for personal engagmenet to effectively achieve these goals. Employees are smart, and when given a challenge to contribute to a better place to work, help with employee health, and reduce the organziational spend, they are likely to step up to the plate. Communicate progress, successes, and challenges to improve. A strict top-down program eventually breaks down somewhere and places to ownership on the smallest part of the organziation.
  • Measure your results. You may have to eventually defend your health program so make sure you are keeping track of the benefits the company is experiencing, especially if you are using up that budget. Pick the ones that are relevant to your program and tell the real story of a healthy employee: cultural metrics, engagement metrics, employee retention, productivity, and of course, physical health.

If you’d like to think outside the box a little when it comes to employee health and wellness ideas, check out the latest challenge from OpenIDEO. Some of these innovative ideas may fit perfectly into your organization. If you try one of these ideas, brag about your results alongside the creators of the idea.

We would love to hear about your unique health and wellness initiative at your company. How does it work and has it paid off?