How to help employees improve their health

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The majority of employers are acutely aware of how the health of their workforce affects productivity and, as a result, their profitability. Employees, on the other hand, usually have scant interest in how their health relates to the bottom line. But smart executives are getting their staffs to care more about their well-being.

Employees with poor health cost U.S. employers significant amounts of money every year. Absenteeism costs ranged from $16-81 for small employers, and from $17-286 for large employers — per employee per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, according to Gallup, these costs total to $153 billion in lost productivity, annually.

“The high percentages of full-time U.S. workers who have less than ideal health are a significant drain on productivity for U.S. businesses,” Gallup states. “However, employees and employers have the opportunity to potentially increase productivity if they address the health issues that are currently plaguing the workplace.”

But there are ways to incent employees to stay healthy.

Assess employee lifestyle

A simple method to understand an employee’s health status and the choices they are making is through a health risk assessment. Information often collected in HRAs include an employee’s current symptoms and conditions, mental health and emotional well-being, personal self-care, immunizations, allergies, medications, surgeries and tests, and health history. It’s important to identify and measure these risks so employees know where they stand on key health measures such as blood pressure, lipids, body-mass index, blood sugar, tobacco and alcohol use and stress. There are numerous HRAs available, both online and in hard copy. If possible, utilize an online version that matches employee information with an extensive medical database to provide tailored guidance.

Once employees have this information, they can better understand how their risks compare to organization-wide benchmarks, and take the steps to improve their health.

Offer proper incentives

Employers must take the time to learn what will appeal to their people. For example, if the employee population is largely diabetic, consider designing a program that offsets the cost of medications and test strips when diabetic employees complete regular doctors’ visits, A1c checkups, or nutrition education. For those battling their weight, employers could bring a program like Weight Watchers on site. Would hiring a registered dietitian to run weight loss programs, lifestyle improvement sessions and cooking classes be effective? If employees are sedentary, supplement gym membership fees. The right incentive can make a big impact on response rates, but the wrong incentive could be a waste of time and resources.

See also: 4 ways employers can motivate employees to lose weight

Recognize and reward employees

Don’t underestimate the simple power of recognition. When employees make improvements in their health, post their pictures, send out brief write-ups about their progress, and have a scrolling recognition board on the company intranet. Competitions can also be a great way to incentivize involvement, especially when the winners are provided a combination of recognition and rewards.


Even if it seems basic, don’t assume employees know standard wellness tips. Post nutrition and fitness tips everywhere: doors, bathrooms, locker rooms, breakrooms, stairwells and distribute in both electronic and hard-copy newsletters. If a certain disease or condition is prevalent among the employee population, make sure relevant information is being shared on managing and improving that condition. Provide lunch and learns regularly. This is often the cheapest, most effective place to start.

Provide onsite support

Providing access to care right at the workplace can greatly increase the chances that employees will get the care they need when they need it, and not wait until conditions or symptoms worsen. Onsite health centers are much more convenient for employees than traditional doctor’s visits, as they save time (and money) by not having to travel.

It also saves employers money on lost productivity costs because employees don’t have to take time off work to go to an appointment. And because the health center is only serving one company’s employee population, the clinical staff is able to form real relationships with their patients, which allows them to make a greater impact on the employees’ lives and health — addressing acute problems as well as underlying chronic conditions.

Understanding an employee population’s health risks and following these tips will not only improve the employees’ health and productivity, but the organization’s health as well.

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