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Employer Challenges That Really Work

Posted 5/25/2018 by UHBlog

Employees spend a third of their day at work, making the workplace a great place to target and change health behaviors. Ask us about fun activities that can boost the health of your team and ledger.

Cheerful African-American office worker giving high five to colleagues and looking at camera

Work can’t be all fun and games, but it should be at least part of the time, says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD.

“It’s an opportunity to do what I call ‘game-ify’ wellness – meaning, to make it fun and exciting,” says Dr. Buchinsky, who is the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “One of the ways we know to stimulate participation is to make it somewhat competitive, which can include making teams within the workplace or, often, to compete with other companies.”

The U. S. Department of Labor indicates workplace wellness initiatives reduce the number of chronic illnesses employees incur and the days they call in sick. That means productivity surges and health insurance claims decrease. We’re not talking chump change: The Center for Disease Control reports companies lose $225.8 billion a year of productivity because of absenteeism – or $1,685 per employee.

Further, employer wellness challenges result in a continuum of results that include good behaviors, good health, less disease and lower costs to the company and worker.

If you want to create successful, supportive and positive wellness challenges at your workplace, Dr. Buchinsky offers this advice:

  • Establish contests. Create competitions that encourage staff members to quit smoking, lose weight, become more physically fit, increase water intake or pack a healthy lunch instead of hitting the vending machine. For instance, this year’s employee challenges at UH center around:
    • Walking. Upping the number of steps an employee walks per day (or week), or increasing the number of minutes or distance they walk.
    • Eating a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (known as the “rainbow challenge”).
    • Sleeping. Encouraging employees to establish healthy bedtime routines that lead to six to eight hours of sleep each night.
    • Reducing stress, through deep breathing, yoga or other methods.
  • Be realistic. You're not going to get 100 percent participation. Some workers already lead a healthy lifestyle and others won't give up high-sugar soda in favor of water. Focus efforts on those in the middle and strive for 70 percent participation.
  • Make it inclusive. A physically unable worker can't play softball, but they can join a challenge to eat more produce.
  • Reward accomplishments. Bestow gift cards, money, PTO or a trophy that comes with bragging rights.
    “The biggest motivators should be feeling healthier, happier, more productive and more energetic, but sometimes you have to help people get to that level,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “I don't know the magical number, but with somewhere north of $300 per person per year, you start to get increased excitement and participation.”
  • Set an example. There should be top-down participation that begins with the C-suite and permeates to the rest of the corporation.
  • Tailor challenges to your company’s size and budget.
    • Smaller companies can encourage wearable fitness trackers, which are fairly inexpensive and unobtrusive, to monitor an employee's steps, distance or other metric. Allow workers to establish their own goals, or set a goal for the whole company. Perhaps reward those who are successful with a gift card to a grocery store.
    • Mid-size companies, with about 100 employees or more, can encourage one department to compete against another; for instance, accounting versus shipping and receiving. Which team can lose the highest percentage of body weight? Which members participate in more yoga classes in one month? If the budget allows, invest in membership at a spinning studio that uses technology to monitor each participant's metrics. Establish rewards for those who, over a set time, increase their average mileage or speed.
    • Larger companies with larger budgets can partner with a similar-sized company. Compete in softball or basketball. Train for a 5k and see which company has the better average time or higher participation. Establish a wager that is friendly, but competitive.
      “That provides motivation for some internal pride because no one wants to lose to the competition,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “It also provides an opportunity to step out of you own facility and to promote the sharing of (wellness) ideas with another corporation.”

To learn more about University Hospitals' occupational health and safety services, 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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