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Secret Ways to Improve Employee Wellness

Posted 10/26/2017 by UHBlog

Because workers spend more than one-third of their day on the job, employers are in a unique position to promote the health of their employees. Ask us about strategies that work.

Secret Ways to Improve Employee Wellness

Modern technology is a blessing and curse, especially when it comes to the health of your workforce. As a society, Americans move less, eat poorly and are stressed to the max, says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD, who is the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

“We've expanded our weight and our waistlines over the last 20-plus years,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “The reasons are fourfold. One, we've become less active because of modern technology. We'd rather use a TV remote rather than get up and walk over to the television. Two, we eat what I call ‘CRAP,’ which stands for calorie-rich and processed foods. Three, we’re stressed out and resort to emotional eating and, four, we’re sleeping less.”

It's resulted in only 13.9 percent of employees – or roughly one in seven people – registering at a normal weight with no chronic health conditions. According to a Gallup poll, unhealthy workers cost American businesses roughly $153 billion per year in lost productivity.

Health issues don’t just affect the individual suffering from the disease or ailment. They impact the businesses that are paying them for their time and output, too. That’s where employers can make a difference to try and cut back on lost productivity while improving the health status of employees.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends employers use effective workplace health programs and policies to reduce health risks and improve the quality of life for 138 million U.S. workers. Sometimes, these programs and policies – such as weight-loss challenges, eliminating unhealthy food and drinks from the office, increasing employee contributions for health care, etc. – can lead to misunderstandings and mistrust.

Instead, there are under-the-radar ways to keep employees healthy and happy, Dr. Buchinsky says, including:

  • Make wellness a competition. When your employees compete for bragging rights among each other, it's a win-win for your organization. Whether it's a walking program or a team-building event or exercise, these activities can elevate employees' sense of camaraderie.
    “Competition drives motivation,” Dr. Buchinsky says.
  • Offer rewards. Tie rewards to the competition or to drive certain behaviors. Effective rewards can include bonuses, gift cards, personal time off and/or lowered insurance premiums.
  • Have a wellness champion. This is someone within your organization who has made changes that affected their health. For example, Dr. Buchinsky described one UH employee who lost over 40 pounds and became a “wellness champion” within the organization.
    “The average person can relate to this person,” he says. “She's made a turnaround in her life, which is motivating others.”
    One caveat: The wellness champion needs to represent people from all facets of the organization, meaning that those in the C-suite and upper-management should participate.
  • Roll-out programs employees want. Dr. Buchinsky recommends offering a well-rounded wellness program that includes an array of activities.
    “It's important to find out what drives different employees, and the only way you can know is to ask," he says. “For instance, maybe you offer yoga, but employees want line dancing. It's not a one size fits all. You have to customize wellness for your particular brand.”
    Make sure there is enough variation, too. For example, some people will be able to fit in a walking break at work, while others will take time to use the workplace gym. Similarly, providing healthy food options for company lunches, dinners and snacks may be the extent that some employees can get involved at work.
  • Offer stress reduction activities. "Any wellness program worth any weight will need to have a stress reduction component," Dr. Buchinsky says.
    Proven ways to address stress include practicing mindfulness, music therapy, yoga, massage therapy and stress management training, such as the Stress Management and Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.) program offered through University Hospitals.
    “If you need help, consider hiring outside experts,” he says. “It may cost a little more money, but it’s worth it. We can help you engage with your employees, and help make programs stick.”
  • Promote vaccines. A temporary onsite flu clinic hosted at your workplace benefits your employees and business by making the flu vaccine convenient and accessible. When it's offered onsite, employees can go during the day, or immediately before or after work. They don’t have to factor in extra time to leave work and travel to a doctor’s appointment, which can take up to four hours out of an employee's day.

If you’re interested in UH wellness programs, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Roy Buchinsky, MD is an internal medicine specialist and the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Buchinsky or any other doctor online.

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