Make improving employee wellness your winter project

January is over, the deep freeze has set in, and many of us have gone into physical hibernation until the spring thaw. The well-intentioned wellness plans and goals we formulated in late December and early January are already at risk of going south. It’s too cold to walk outside, going to the gym is a time hassle, and we need our comfort food.

If you’re an employer, now is a good time to step in and rally your troops. When we don’t exercise, eat properly or otherwise take care of our bodies mentally and physically, we open ourselves up to obesity and chronic illnesses such as heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer. Fatigue and depression become commonplace, and all of these maladies contribute to increased time away from work, less productivity while at work and a general malaise that has a negative impact on teamwork, productivity, customer service and morale.

Adopting an organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behavior overall and to improve health outcomes is an important strategy. These programs comprise activities such as health education and coaching, weight-management programs, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs and more.

Wellness programs also include policies intended to facilitate employee health, including allowing time for exercise, providing on-site kitchens and eating areas, offering healthful food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. Effective workplace programs, policies, and environments that are health-focused and worker-centered have the potential to significantly benefit employers, employees, their families, and communities.

Here are some ideas to get you started. A useful approach is to recruit employees to meet and discuss wellness options, and then help implement these ideas, with your support.

  • Sponsor walks, runs, bike rides, golfing or other activities for charities or special causes, and encourage workers to participate (pay their entry fees)
  • Sponsor dance lessons, onsite or off
  • Pay for swimming lessons or open-swim time at a local recreation facility
  • Conduct a health fair, with screenings for cholesterol, BMI, blood sugar, etc.
  • Promote “stretch time” and breaks and encourage workers to move around physically
  • Offer smoking-cessation workshops
  • Create healthy competition for achieving personal healthcare goals and a system for monitoring progress and rewarding participants who meet their goals (not just the top achievers, but everyone)
  • Bring a massage therapist to the office or workplace for scheduled appointments with workers
  • Conduct yoga, meditation or other wellness-related classes onsite during the day or after work hours
  • Pay all or a portion of gym or fitness center memberships
  • Consider creating a workout room or space onsite, even if it’s a shared space like a large conference room, lunch or storage area
  • Encourage employees to “wear the colors” and participate in local softball, volleyball, soccer and other competitive sports
  • Bring healthy snacks into meetings and serve healthy lunches
  • Encourage employees to walk at lunch, during breaks or before and after work
  • Make health and wellness videos and educational materials available to employees
  • Instead of candy, cookies and soda, substitute fruit, yogurt and other healthy snacks at meetings and in vending machines
  • Invite guests, such as nutritional experts, chefs and personal trainers to present to employees onsite or locally.

These are just a few ideas — there are hundreds of good programs and suggestions for improving employee health. Although some health risk factors, such as heredity, cannot be modified, focused education and personal discipline can change others such as smoking, physical inactivity, weight gain, alcohol use and, by extension, hypertension, high cholesterol, and even depression.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!