Making workplace wellness run: 5 tips for helping employees get healthier
FARGO — Among the thousands signed up for this year's Fargo Marathon are people running for the boss — and we're not talking Bruce Springsteen. About 20 businesses have entered teams in one or more races this year.
That participation reflects a growing national trend of employers making health and wellness a part of doing business.
Fargo Marathon director Mark Knutson says he gets more calls every year from companies wanting to take part in the May event. Many will pay all or a portion of their employees' race fees as part of workplace health initiatives.
"You hear a lot about team-building in the corporate world, but I can't imagine anything cooler than getting a group together to run or walk the 5K, then maybe heading out to eat afterwards. There's just an electricity about it," Knutson said.
According to a recent analysis, workplace wellness programs, which can include supporting teams like those in this year's marathon, are now offered in nearly half of all U.S. companies with 50 or more employees. Programs are also on the rise with smaller employers. It's become a $6 billion industry, according to Forbes.
Part of it is cost savings. A recent report by the Rand Corporation shows statistical evidence that employers with wellness programs save money on health care costs, with the greatest success in programs that assist employees with weight control, smoking cessation and exercise frequency.
It's also just good business. "A workforce that's healthier is a more engaged, productive workforce," says Pete Seljevold, administrator of the North Dakota Worksite Wellness Initiative.
But having a successful workplace wellness program goes beyond forming a team to run a race or two.
Here are five tips to create successful program.
Get senior leaders on board. Top and middle management need to buy into wellness, and not just by setting a good example, such as participating in a 10,000 steps challenge or signing up for a company weight-loss program. It's about designing a new company philosophy.
"Wellness programs are best if they're incorporated into the overall business strategy of the company," Seljevold said, "the company needs to make sure that health and well-being become a priority for the business."
That's the case for Heat Transfer Warehouse in Fargo, where owner/manager Kirk Anton has the company pay for all employees and a guest to participate in one of the Fargo Marathon races.
"One of our core values as a company is 'healthy living,' so this was a natural fit," Anton says.
Create a health-friendly environment. Workplace wellness doesn't have to be about breaking a sweat. It can include standing workstations or serving fruits and vegetables at meetings.
Seljevold says it's about making what seem like small changes in how you do business.
"Maybe you want to encourage a walking meeting. Can you get business done while you walk around the block?" he said.
Build effective programming. Seljevold says it's important to understand both the culture of the business and the challenges employees face. Will employees thrive on competition between departments, or will they be more willing to work on their own to earn prizes?
Managers should study real data about employees' health and design programs around what they want and need. Seljevold says that could mean taking a holistic approach — focusing on not just nutrition and exercise, but financial and emotional health.
"Offering classes on the basics of budgeting or getting out of debt can be considered wellness," he said.
Communicate. If employees aren't hearing about or getting the proper messages about the wellness program, it does no good. Seljevold says companies should have an identity around their health program, like a logo and tagline.
Share success stories about an employee's weight loss in the company newsletter or plaster pictures of marathon teams all over Facebook.
Make activities social, convenient and accessible. Think about having wellness events in the office during work hours. For off-site events, like walkathons or "Skate Night with the Guys from Accounting," consider offering transportation. Alleviate parental guilt by inviting families.
Experts advise companies just starting a workplace wellness initiative understand it can be a work in progress. Activities can change year to year. Get feedback from employees about what they liked and what was a waste of time.
Seljevold said business leaders who don't know where to start can ask one question.
"Are we, as employers, creating a culture of health or are we stifling it?" he said. "That might help guide you into the direction you want to take."
For more information
North Dakota Worksite Wellness Initiative is holding training sessions June 8-9. For more information, go to http://ndworksitewellness.org