Caring about your employees' wellness isn't just good karma—it can also be a smart business decision. If you have employees taking a lot of smoking breaks or falling asleep at their desks due to insomnia or exhaustion, your staff isn't working to their full potential. You may even see your health care costs rise as a result.
In fact, health care coverage is the largest employee-related expense for American employers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. An SHRM Survey in 2016, taken from February to April with 2,124 human resource professionals, found "the average total employee annual health care cost per covered employee in 2015 was $8,669."
Getting your employees to think more about their health may benefit your company. After all, fewer sick days could translate into more productivity and profits.
But unless all of your employees are marathon runners and fitness trainers on the side, a culture of wellness isn't likely to just form on its own. You may have to try a few things first.
1. Start at the top.
You aren't likely to get your employees to buy into the idea of being more healthy if everyone knows that you often eat a double cheeseburger and a side of cheese and bacon-covered fries with a milkshake at your desk during lunch.
In other words, in order to foster a culture of wellness in your company, try being a role model instead of, well, eating a bunch of rolls.
"A comprehensive wellness plan requires senior management and human resources engaged throughout the entire program," says Neil Model, the president of CBIZ ESO Model in Philadelphia. (CBIZ ESO Model is a local office of CBIZ Benefits and Insurance Services, a benefits consulting firm.)
On the other hand, maybe you're one of those people who jogs every morning at 5 a.m. and who drinks kale smoothies for breakfast. While it's great to promote good health, try not to force your health agenda on your team. Forcing your health agenda onto everyone could make people resent you.
But if you can get people on board with being healthier, it could help your working relationship with your employees, says Caleb Backe, director of business operations for Maple Holistics, an organic and natural beauty products manufacturer in Farmingdale, New Jersey.
"An employee walking or running side by side with his or her boss, talking, breaking a sweat, competing in a healthy way—it creates a bond of some kind," Backe says.
2. Reach out to all of your employees.
Some of your employees probably eat wisely and exercise regularly. They may even enjoy doing that.
Other staff members might feel like carrot cake counts as a vegetable. It's those people you want to reach.
—Neil Model, president, CBIZ ESO Model
"A program is not successful when it appeals only to people who were already healthy, such as offering gym memberships or nutritional health through cookbooks. A program will not offer a return on investment here," says Bart Bracken, executive vice president of operations at HMC HealthWorks, a healthcare management solutions company based out Jupiter, Florida.
Certainly, it's smart to help healthy employees remain healthy. But the real health care savings may come when you can help unhealthy employees make better health decisions.
3. Promote health beyond using cool apps.
Sure, those gadgets that let you count the steps you take in a day can be motivating. And it may be helpful to direct employees to those websites that count calories in just about every food item imaginable.
But if you're creating a wellness culture in your company, try not to forget about the human element, Model says.
"Word-of-mouth and people-to-people interaction are two of the best ways to increase employee participation in the program," he says. "Technology, such as apps or websites, can be educational or engaging, maybe for a short time. But successful plans require a human element, through ongoing interaction and monitoring by human resources or a wellness coach."
4. Incorporate a wellness program into your company.
Posting flyers on the company billboard about how important it is to eat fruits and vegetables isn't enough. (You know that flyer is going to be ignored and then covered up with more pamphlets.)
It's not necessary to spend a fortune on a wellness program to make a difference. You just need to be organized enough to have someone at your company promoting wellness.
Tigris Events, an event planning and staffing agency in Toronto, only has eight employees in their home office. Nonetheless, the CEO has two employees making up a wellness committee, says marketing manager Nicole Delorme.
"The wellness committee is responsible for ensuring team members take time to get up and stretch every one to two hours, go for daily walks and sign up for other physical activities pending interest and availability. This includes yoga, healthy lunch challenges and water drinking challenges," Delorme says.
Even if you don't want to go as far as forming a wellness committee, think about encouraging workers to take breaks, says Ellie Cobb, a holistic psychologist in New York City.
"Studies show that even the simple act of encouraging work breaks every 90 minutes enhances focus, builds the capacity to think creatively and improves general well-being," Cobb says.
5. Have fun with wellness.
You might want to try something similar to what Matt Fiedler does. He's the CEO and co-founder of Vinyl Me, Please, a record of the month club based in Boulder, Colorado.
His company offers something they call fun money.
"It's a $500 stipend given each quarter to full-time employees that they can use to invest in themselves," Fiedler says. “There aren't many restrictions on how people can use it; it just has to be used on something that will help employees become better people or team members."
Some people have used it for gym memberships, according to Fiedler. Others have used it for personal coaching and development and music lessons. Although it isn't restricted to wellness, one could argue that it can help mental health to learn the guitar or receive personal coaching.
Fiedler says that the stipend has been a big hit among employees.
"It's a huge part of our culture that everyone be continuously learning and growing," he says. "Not just in their role inside the company, but as people in general. This is a cheap and easy way to promote that and empower the person to take their own development seriously."
If you want to be ambitious, Cobb suggests offering lunchtime meditation groups or partnering with healthy food delivery subscription companies to bring in more nutritious meals to your employees. You could even hire the occasional guest speaker to talk about a certain health topic.
"Inviting wellness experts to come speak to employees is a good way to signal the company's value of health and provide employees with cutting edge information," she says. "Some businesses even go as far as bringing interior designers to spruce up the energy of the work space with crystals and other holistic approaches."
Really, you can do just about anything to promote wellness in your company. Who knows what may happen if you are serious about helping your employees become healthier. You may do more than save money. You may save a life.
Read more articles on company culture.