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5 Trends in Health and Wellness at Work
Richard King

Health care costs are increasing and because so many of those costs are not covered by our Medicare system, employers are left holding the bag for some very expensive items like pharmaceutical drugs and medications. These costs are rising every year and employers, especially those with small to medium-sized operations, can simply not afford to take on this burden any longer. Plus, people spend about two thirds of their waking hours at work, so the workplace has a significant impact on health and health-related behaviours.

The workplace is a very effective location for health promotion. This is especially true for adults who are difficult to reach in other ways. Increasingly, employers have taken on this role, partly for altruistic reasons, but also for some practical ones as well. Smart employers know that employees who exercise frequently miss an average just over two days a year. While those who don’t exercise as much are absent over three days a year. That alone might be reason enough to set up a health and wellness program at work.

But there are many more good reasons to establish workplace wellness programs. They are proven to reduce the overall employee costs. This is true for absences from work, sick days, lower medical costs and can amount to a savings of about a third of total health care costs for every employee.

Health and wellness programs at work also help employees improve their overall health, strength and stamina that leads to improved production and productivity. Employees have a keener focus at work and can concentrate longer. They almost always have better relations with their supervisors and fellow employees, and many report an improved satisfaction with their work and their careers. For employers, they can expect to see their retention rates improve along with their levels of employee morale and commitment to their company and their brand.

So, what’s not to like about workplace health and wellness programs? Not much. Here are five trending concepts in wellness programs at work.

Make it personal

Employers are personalizing their health and wellness programs because they, like advertisers and marketers, are realizing that when it comes to health issues, there is no one size fits all solution. People need to be self-motivated based on their individual considerations if they are going to make positive health and wellness improvements. The way this plays out in workplace health and wellness programs is through flexible options for employees to choose from or allowing them to tailor their own program and providing them with partial of full reimbursement of their costs.

Some employers are going a little further and offering individual health coaching for their employee to help them build the body and the life they would like to have. This is particularly effective for corporate managers who may not have the time to even plan their own wellness program. The other trend within this area is to purchase wearable fitness devices for employees like FitBit, Nike’s FuelBands or Jawbone’s UP24. These tools have dramatically changed the way that people manage their fitness and employers are encouraging their staff to use them, both at work and at home to become healthier and fitter individuals.

Incentives and rewards

Money still does talk, and now it appears that it will help people walk and exercise as well. Research has shown that employees are more likely to engage in wellness activities when they have an incentive, particularly a financial one, to do so. Employers are taking advantage of this knowledge to provide cash payments to employees who undertake a formal health assessment. Others are looking at a range of other incentives and rewards for milestone achievements like quitting smoking or weight loss. These might include everything from time off work, gift cards to healthy food baskets.

This is just another push along the road to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce. And it really is a small investment for the possibilities of a great reward for both employees and their employer.

Nudging people forward to better health

One other way that employers are encouraging their staff group to a healthier lifestyle is called nudging. Nudging is not new and it has been used successfully in several social policy campaigns in recent memory. One very successful one was MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which transformed driving under the influence from a social norm to a social no-no.
Nudging works by pointing people in the right direction without telling them that they have to go there. It could be done in health and wellness areas like adding signage near the elevators that suggests you can take the nearby stairs. Employers can also move healthier food and drinks to eye level and lower the unhealthy snacks to the bottom shelves in the employee cafeteria.

Nudging is tricky but it works. It moves people towards healthier choices without making them feel like they have to do it.

Designed for success

Companies and organizations are also learning that how workplaces and workspaces are designed can both impact an employee’s health and also lead them to making healthier choices at work. Workspaces that are more open are often not just open to air circulation but to positive ideas and reinforcement as well. Employers are also thinking about the design of their workplaces to make them more amenable to movement rather a sedentary lifestyle that we’ve all become accustomed to. The latest innovations in this aspect of workplace wellness include standing desks, treadmill workstations and lounge spaces to meet and chat with their fellow workers on a more regular basis.

Where we sit or stand at work can have a big impact on our overall health and fitness levels. Employers are building workplaces and work areas that are not just productive, but healthy as well.

Going green

The last trend in the workplace health and wellness area reflects some of the changes in our society. Today, many employers and employees are conscious of the carbon footprint that we are imposing on the planet at work. Now research from the World Green Building Council shows we can do something about that and be healthier at the same time. They released a report showing that buildings with green features have employees that are healthier, happier and less likely to take time off from illness. Some of the green initiatives that have proven most successful are those that work in reducing or eliminating harmful chemicals. Others focus on having products in their buildings that contain natural ingredients, as well as increasing the amount of natural light and fresh air that is circulated throughout the offices.

Not only are these greener buildings healthier to work in, they also help create appreciation for an employer or company as recognition of their efforts to help the environment. This trickles down to more support from employees who want to stay longer with an employer who cares about them and the planet we live on. Not only that, but green buildings are cheaper to operate and generate significantly higher returns to owners and investors.

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