11 innovative ideas for creating a healthy workplace

healthyemployersLast month, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal held its fourth annual awards ceremony to recognize the 22 companies who scored the highest on its 2013 Healthiest Employers assessment.  These employers share a commitment to improving the overall well-being of their employees including physical, mental, social, and financial health.  They believe that a healthy workplace will not only create a happier, healthier workforce, but has the potential to enhance recruitment and retention, increase teamwork and collaboration, reduce absences, and curb spiraling health care costs.

So what are these healthy workplaces doing?  In addition to mainstay programs such as smoking cessation, on-site fitness classes and flu-shot clinics, innovative initiatives include:

  1. On-site farmers’ markets
  2. Standing and treadmill desks
  3. Healthy food options in meetings, vending machines and cafeterias – in some cases even turning off the deep fryer!
  4. On-site health screenings, risk assessments, and customized coaching
  5. Financial literacy classes
  6. Free fruit-of-the-month
  7. Stair-use promotion programs
  8. Team fitness challenges
  9. Reimbursing race registrations
  10. Nutrition classes with registered dieticians
  11. Online wellness portals and interactive challenges

Great River Energy, the highest scorer and winner of the “Most Awesome Healthiest Employer Award,” even gives tomato plants to all employees to encourage healthy eating and gardening.

Employer efforts are increasingly expanding beyond the boundaries of employee wellness.  As pointed out in the program, chronic illness costs Minnesota over $5 billion dollars in direct costs per year.  Another $17 billion is estimated to be lost due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and disengagement resulting from chronic disease.   Since 6 of 10 caregivers are employed in the workforce, employers recognize that supporting both employees with chronic conditions and employee caregivers can have a big impact to their bottom lines.  Caregiver support and spousal wellness programs are being offered by numerous honorees.

As the U.S. health system struggles to cope with skyrocketing rates of diabetes and other conditions influenced by lifestyle choices, we can learn much from these healthy employers. Shared wisdom:

  • Start small, keep things simple and build gradually.  Engagement will suffer if programs are too complicated.
  • One size does not fit all. Have numerous options available so individuals can create personalized plans to take action and be healthy.
  • Build community.  From online social networks to team fitness challenges, wellness communities inspire, educate, challenge, and hold members accountable to their goals and to each other
  • Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Congratulations to all honorees of the Business Journal’s 2013 Healthiest Employers!