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Health and Productivity in the Workplace: Are you Doing your Part as an Employer?

Posted on: June 2, 2017

Category: Uncategorized

By Greg Whitesell, Marketing Director

How valuable are your employees to your organization?  Without a productive workforce, could your organization survive?  Most likely we can all agree that human capital is an organization’s greatest asset.  With that said, stop for a moment and reflect on the non-human assets of your firm.  Company vehicles, computers, software, tools – odds are, your company has initiatives in place to keep these assets in top working order to maximize efficiency and keep business moving.

Now, think about your human assets.  As an employer, are you committed to keeping your team in top working condition?  Are you doing your part to encourage your staff to engage in a healthy lifestyle?  Does it really matter if you aren’t?

It does matter in many ways, but perhaps most poignantly in your bottom line.  A Duke University study cited by Forbes found that obesity-related absenteeism and presenteeism cost U.S. Employers $73 billion yearly.  The article also outlines a related study showing that employers spend $3,838 annually in health care costs on the average employee, however, that figure jumps into the range of $4,252 to $8,067 for overweight/obese workers.  In simpler terms, each addition BMI (Body Mass Index) point above normal weight adds roughly $200 per year for the employee.  In a climate of rising health care costs, it’s clear that employers do indeed have a vested interest in encouraging healthy lifestyles among their employee community.

While the example above was weight-related, that’s just one issue some of your employees likely struggle with.  Smoking, stress, depression, high blood pressure, sleep issues, cardiovascular disease, poor self-image, eating disorders – these are all very real conditions your employees face that have a direct impact on productivity, moral and health care costs.  So, where do you start?

  1. Provide employees with the information they need to establish and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    Unless health and fitness is already incorporated into a person’s lifestyle, the first step is often the hardest to take.  Employers can help make that first step easier by making sure that educational opportunities exist for their staff.  In many localities, healthcare and/or fitness organizations engage in outreach opportunities with businesses.  These partnerships provide employers with the expertise they need to assist their employees with subjects like weight loss, smoking cessation, stress reduction and more.  Some companies have similar Employee Assistance programs (EAP) and/or healthy rewards incentives included in their benefit plans.  Additional educational opportunities can also be explored online.  For example, the American Cancer Society produces a Healthy Living newsletter that is readily available to employers for distribution to their staff (for more information on this, visit  The more your employees know about making healthy lifestyle choices, the more likely they are to initiate the desired changes or at least be comfortable enough to try.

  2. Create an environment that fosters the healthy habits you want your employees to adopt.

    Are you finding that cakes, cookies and pizza are becoming a regular occurrence in your break room or kitchen?  In his article “You Are What You Eat…Even at Work”, Chad Brooks points out that employees who eat healthy are 25% more likely to have higher job performance.  When you’re planning your next in-office lunch, consider the menu.  While making more nutritionally sound choices might not always be the cheapest, doing so can send the message to your team that you value the quality of the fuel you are providing to them.  Perhaps your next office potluck could be a “healthy” cooking contest with a recipe exchange. 

    Food is just one piece of the equation.  Encouraging exercise is another.  Carson Tate, in a blog post titled “6 Reasons Why Exercise Can Supercharge Your Productivity” points out the following:

    • Exercise keeps you alert and focused
    • Exercise increases your energy level
    • Exercise improves brain function
    • Exercise can spark creativity
    • Exercise can be a key component of work/life balance
    • Exercise can help you learn to perform through discomfort

    Those are powerful reasons to encourage your staff to get moving.  Some companies go so far as to include on-site gyms or fitness classes or free/subsidized gym memberships.  If such perks aren’t an option for your company, consider some alternatives.  Maybe you can take advantage of your office location and create challenges like taking the stairs.  How about extending lunch by 30 minutes to enable a mid-day run.  The options vary by your own unique workplace, but the benefits are clear – anything you can do to get your employees to increase their fitness is a win for you.

  3. Give your team time to recharge.

    Vacation and time off is a crucial component of employee wellness (and with summer right around the corner, it’s timely to consider).  Despite a recent rise in vacation usage among American employees, workers are still leaving time off on the table (658 million days in 2016 to be exact) – but why?  Here’s one reason:  According to Project: Time Off research, even though most managers say they understand how taking time off can boost employee productivity and team skills and a robust 91% say they actively encourage time off, only 43% report actually talking with their employees about it.  Employees undoubtedly appreciate their PTO, and given the low unemployment rate, it can be a real advantage if management develops a meaningful policy, communicates it and encourages its use.

Regardless of where you start, the point is to take action.  Given the talent shortage, employers need to keep their best employees happy, healthy and productive.  Having an office of unhealthy employees is akin to trying to win a football game with a chronically injured roster.  Position your company to win by adding a healthy lifestyle component to your company playbook.

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