The workplace is a key part of improving the health of our community. Most adults spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else- with technology making jobs increasingly less active. This makes wellness at work more important than ever. Workplace culture and environment can influence individual behavior and can help employees take up a healthier lifestyle.
A worksite wellness program helps educate and motivate employees in positive lifestyle behaviors, such as healthy eating, physical activity, weight loss, stress management, smoking cessation, and more. Ideal components include personal health risk assessments; tobacco-free campuses and access to smoking cessation resources; flexible schedules to accommodate more physical activity; onsite fitness facilities or discounted gym memberships; and catering and vending policies with healthy food choices.
Healthy Work Practices- It’s Good Business
- Employers typically see a $3.00 return on investment for every $1.00 spent on workplace wellness programs even after only three to five years of running a program.
- Employees who exercise at least one time per week have 33% to 50% lower health care costs.
- Workplaces with physical activity programs reduce their healthcare costs by 20% to 55%, lower their short-term sick leave usage by 6% to 32%, and increase their productivity by 2% to 52%.
- On average, smokers are absent from work 50% more often than nonsmokers.
- Absences related to obesity cost U.S. employers an estimated $4.3 billion each year.
Incorporate Planned Physical Activity
Being active is important for all of us, and it doesn’t require a personal trainer or a costly gym membership. Employers can support their employees being physically activity both on and off work time at very little cost. Consider implementing office stretch and brisk walking breaks, signs to use the stairs, incentives to bike or walk to work, or scheduled visits by yoga or fitness trainers. Physical activity, combined with healthy eating, can help employees maintain a healthy weight, be more alert and energetic at work and can also help prevent chronic disease. The County of Ventura has developed some useful guides including:
- Physical Activities at Meetings
- County of Ventura Weight Loss Challenge Kit
- Lift Off! 10 Minute Activity Breaks
Follow Healthy Food and Beverage Criteria
Very few of us eat as well as we could. There are some simple, low and cost-free steps employers can take to improve nutrition for their employees. Healthy eating, combined with physical activity, can help employees maintain a healthy weight, be more alert and energetic at work and can also help prevent chronic disease.
Offer Healthy Vending Machines
Remove high sugar, fat and sodium vending machine options. Ensure a wide variety of healthier products in vending-size packaging are available (dried fruit is a great form to include in a vending machine). A refrigerated unit would expand the number of healthful options you could sell (fresh fruit, salads, and low-fat yogurt).
Institute Healthy Meetings
A healthy meeting policy that provides guidelines for food and beverages and prescribes activity breaks for longer meetings can help employees stay alert, focused and healthy.
Provide Nutritious Snacks at Meetings
Offer nutritious, energy packed snacks such as whole grains bagels, fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single largest contributor of calorie intake in the United States and a leading factor in obesity. Add office water stations in lieu of soda machines.
About Vending Machines
Vending machines are a common part of our built environments and most commonly offer products high in sugar and sodium. The County of Ventura’s Wellness Program for County employees has produced a poster (large format or small printer-sized format) promoting healthier food and drink choices in these machines. They also created an insert for the poster that lists examples of brand name products with their calorie and sugar content. Anyone can download and print these documents for display in work places, schools, wherever vending machines can be found. They can also be used in educational efforts.
When you eat or drink snack foods and drinks, watch out for subtle tricks. A package or bottle, for example, might have “only 140 calories per serving” but contain two servings! Drinking sugared sodas is clearly linked to health problems like diabetes, obesity and dental problems.
Workplace wellness programs are one of the best ways to reduce costs and improve employee health. They can range from basic programs containing one or two wellness elements to broad programs that include all five of the components recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Options for policy change include:
- Flex Time for Physical Activity
- Physical Activity Breaks During Meetings
- Workplace Nutrition Policies
- Breastfeeding Accommodation Policies
- Support for Bicycle Commuting
- Health Club / Fitness Class Discounts
- Tobacco Free Business Policy
There are excellent resources to support businesses implement workplace wellness programs, including the following wellness policy resources:
- California Fit Business Kit
- HEAL Cities Employee Wellness Resources
- CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
- County of Ventura Wellness Program
- Kaiser Permanente – Thrive at work
- Wall Street Journal
- Thrive Wellness Solutions (Ventura County)
Provide Breastfeeding Accommodation for Employees
Workplace lactation policies are good for everyone – children, parents, employers, and society. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity, as well as infections and illnesses in infants, and lowers the risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis for mothers. Providing a breastfeeding-friendly workplace doesn’t only make sense for babies and moms, it also makes business sense. Businesses with lactation policies enjoy lower turnover rates, lower healthcare costs, less absenteeism and higher employee productivity and morale. Additionally, treating diseases and conditions preventable by breastfeeding costs insurers at least $3.6 billion each year.
Workplace breastfeeding policies can enhance state-mandated accommodations so that mothers are more supported to pump their milk at work. Refer to these resources to develop your own breastfeeding accommodation program:
Removing tobacco use and exposure in the workplace is the single most impactful step an employer can take to improve employee health and productivity. Ventura County’s Public Health Office offers free CALL IT QUITS support programs to those seeking to quit smoking. Contact them at: 805-201-STOP (7867).
Call it Quits provides:
- Options for free quit assistance counseling
- Free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
- Reimbursement for pharmacotherapy
- Tools for a successful quit
Sources: Wellness Councils of America, American Cancer Society, American Journal of Health Promotion, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicinet