Should HR send workers to the gym?

Should HR send workers to the gym?

Should HR send workers to the gym? If you still think of corporate gym memberships and workplace wellness challenges as nice-to-haves for staff, it’s worth a fresh look at the payoffs for HR and employers.

Whether you offer healthy snacks in the office kitchen, give every employee a fitness tracker, or invest in standing desks or an on-site gym, there are options for organizations of all size to invest in employee health – and to reap the benefits, from reducing absenteeism and insurance premiums to increasing employee engagement.

HRD spoke to Linda Lewis-Daly of Lewis-Daly Associates, an expert in workplace wellness solutions and consultant for GoodLife Fitness, on why the investment is worth it.

Why is it important for companies to encourage employee health?

Workplace wellness programs are a necessary part of running a successful business. Today’s environment makes it difficult for employees to achieve and maintain good health. High-calorie, sugar-laden and fatty, tasty food is cheap and easily accessible, green spaces are dwindling, and most jobs unknowingly promote chronic stress and long periods of inactivity.

Not only do working Canadians spend most of their waking hours at their jobs, but many are spending it sitting at their desks, behind the wheel of a vehicle or standing on a production line: sedentary for up to nine hours a day. The remainder of time is occupied by caring for kids, housework, socializing or commuting. This leaves very little time for healthy habits.

Research continues to illustrate the relationship between healthy employees and a productive and engaged workforce, which are critical components for organizations that want a competitive edge.

Companies that invest in the health and overall well-being of their employees create a supportive and healthy workplace culture, which helps attract and retain high-calibre talent. These companies have greater customer/stakeholder satisfaction because healthy employees are more satisfied with their work, and as a result, are more productive.

What are the benefits for the company?

One of the best strategies organizations can employ is to focus on prevention and take a proactive approach to help employees stay healthy. It is about implementing wellness programming aimed to prevent the onset of chronic conditions that drive the majority of healthcare costs impacting both the business and employee.

There are two categories of costs associated with unhealthy employees: direct costs such as outpatient care, pharmacy charges, inpatient care, emergency room visits, etc. and indirect costs like short-term disability, workers’ compensation, turnover, absenteeism, etc.

The many benefits of workplace wellness programming include:
  • Increased productivity, innovation, job satisfaction
  • Decreased absenteeism, injury, disability claims
  • Lowered risks and costs associated with chronic diseases
  • Greater engagement and loyalty
  • Increased attraction and hiring referrals
  • Lower turnover
  • Improved co-worker relationships
  • Enhanced corporate image (external) and culture (internal)
In order to overcome the many obstacles to health including time, money and motivation, employees need to be provided with their current-state awareness, behaviour-change strategies and cognitive skills to make it easier for them to make healthier decisions for life. As employees spend over half of their waking hours at work, the workplace has the unique opportunity to influence their lifestyle behaviour(s) in a measureable way.

What are the benefits to employees?

What traditional companies tended to do is burn out their best people. If employees are working through their lunches, not taking breaks or vacation days, are sedentary for long periods and chronically stressed or are regularly putting in too many work hours, there becomes an imbalance.

For a company to be successful, people have to be happy in their jobs and giving their best. With this balance, the employee thrives, the clients win and the organization’s bottom-line wins, too.

When a company makes a genuine effort to help employees stay healthy, be the best they can be and stay engaged, a real and loyal connection to the workplace is forged. The workplace becomes a place where you want to go to work and make a positive contribution.

What’s the best way to approach creating a corporate wellness challenge?

Never forget the “fun factor” in wellness programming! Employees are social beings and corporate wellness challenges are one way to get employees engaged in a healthy behaviour focus … together. Whether a corporate challenge is about moving more, drinking more water or eating more fruit, team or individual leaderboards help to create friendly competition and  new water-cooler banter. In fact, wellness challenges can start to change the corporate lingo as co-workers talk about their fitness goals and favourite activities or what foods they have started (or stopped) eating.

Wellness providers, like GoodLife Workplace Wellness, can help employers conceive and administer impactful corporate wellness challenges. By using a web-based platform, wellness challenges can be inclusive of telecommuters, the frequent travellers and smaller, regional offices.

Why can companies no longer afford to be hands off about employee health?

Organizations are starting to align their wellness strategy within their corporate social responsibility strategy … The demographics of Canadian workplaces are also changing. In today’s “war for talent”, attracting and keeping employees is key to sustaining a successful business.

There is no cookie cutter approach to workplace wellness, but winning programs share common success factors. These include commitment from management, employee involvement, adequate resources and clear policies on workplace health, wellness and safety that align with the organization’s mission, vision and values.

Give employees the greatest opportunity for success by designing supportive work-life policies and offering comprehensive, effective wellness programs that address behaviours like physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco use, managing stress, destigmatizing mental health problems, and programs that help them reduce their risk for chronic disease.

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