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Healthier Habits, Happier Employees

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Healthier Habits, Happier Employees

Does your place of work make your health and wellness a priority? As a leader in your profession, does it matter to you and your organization that employees are encouraged to live healthy lifestyles? The answers to both of these questions should be a resounding “yes,” because we spend more than one third of our lives at work, which makes the workplace a heavy influencer on lifestyle habits.

According to Melanie Algermissen, Vice President of Operations for Cooper Wellness Strategies, employers have an opportunity to reinforce healthy behaviors through wellness programs that the employee can then take home to create a healthier household. Proper exercise, nutrition, stress management and sleep support improved individual work performance and stamina, leading to higher workforce engagement, operational efficiency and, ultimately, company performance.

In order to create an impactful wellness program, organizations must understand their “burning platform,” or why healthier employees are important to their business success. For example, is a healthier employee important because he or she incurs fewer healthcare costs, or misses fewer days of work? Or is it just the right thing to do, based on the organization’s mission? “Putting a strategic operating plan in place that focuses on leadership engagement and buy-in, meaningful incentive design, effective communication, supportive policies and processes and health-risk reducing programs is simpler when a burning platform is recognized,” says Algermissen. “Employers also need to dedicate resources to the successful management of the employee wellness program, whether internal or external. Wellness as an afterthought is rarely successful.”

Algermissen notes that successful employee wellness programs are strategically designed, well-implemented and consistently evaluated. Regular tracking of key performance indicators that support the organization’s burning platform for wellness is important. “Moving the needle on health risks requires successful education and communication, support by all managers and executive leaders, policies that remove participation barriers and programs that meet employees where they are along their individual wellness journeys,” says Algermissen. Technology plays a huge role in each of these areas, which should be embraced by employers.

Algermissen says the two most important things an employer can provide for its employees are a tobacco-free workplace and all the support they need to be physically active. “Tobacco usage is the top modifiable risk factor within a person’s control, and research from The Cooper Institute has proven moving from a poor to fair level of cardiovascular fitness reduces the risk of all-cause mortality by 58 percent.”

Changing lifestyle habits can be quite difficult and often involve multiple failed attempts before a person finds success. “We encourage our clients to first provide supportive tools and resources and educate their employees on the benefits of better habits. Then, incentives can take shape over time to encourage engagement and eventually the achievement of health outcomes. Incentivizing health improvement up front in lieu of this methodical approach can be very discouraging for employees and feel punitive,” Algermissen says.

For example, tobacco cessation programs and tobacco-free workplace policies should be made available before launching tobacco-free incentive programs. Educating employees about their individual fitness level is extremely important and often overlooked by employers. Most people intuitively know where their blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight should be, but cardiovascular fitness is less understood by the general population. Arming people with this information helps to encourage more meaningful, frequent use of resources like employees onsite fitness facilities or classes, personal trainers, marked walking paths or fitness tracking devices. Building this active culture also paves the way for incentivizing actual activity or fitness levels. With an “educate, engage, improve” mindset, employers will be able to build motivating, supportive peer networks as they collectively improve the health of their population. 

Additionally, employers should attempt to minimize barriers to other healthy habits. This could include identifying healthy onsite or local dining options, reviewing policies regarding overtime or unspoken “always-on, work-in-the-evenings” expectations to understand their impact on company culture, and introducing healthy habit commitment as a part of the new employee orientation experience and expectation for the leadership team. “We all have a responsibility in this. Organizations should work to create a culture that is supportive of healthy habits. Leaders need to set an example with their own behaviors and recognize the impact their words of encouragement have on their people. Employees should support, not sabotage, one another’s efforts and rally together as a team. And, everyone needs to celebrate successes,” says Algermissen.

Healthier employees are more engaged employees, and more engaged employees lead to better business outcomes. “Happier, healthier people who can work faster and better are much more appealing to your bottom line than their unhealthier counterparts, and they’re more fun to work with,” says Algermissen. “We like to focus on becoming healthier because fitness and wellbeing is a journey, not a destination–as Dr. Cooper has said for years.”

For more information about Cooper Wellness Strategies and the expertise the organization brings to clients across the country, visit cooperwellness.com or call 972.560.3263. 

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.