Share the Health

When encouraging healthy living, you've got to walk the walk.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the January 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As health-care costs skyrocket, companies are worrying about keeping employees in the pink-and the business in the black.

But a recent study by consulting firm Towers Perrin shows a rift between employees and management that may undermine such efforts. Workers aren't happy about reduced health benefits, and only 53 percent of employees surveyed believe what their employers communicate about health-care costs. Meanwhile, companies want employees to be proactive about staying healthy, but only 36 percent think workers are effective health-care consumers. So how can that crevasse be bridged?

"Companies want employees to make informed decisions about their health, but employees have been told, 'Don't worry about it. Your primary-care physician will figure it out for you,'" explains Rich Ostuw of Towers Perrin. "But employers can be catalysts for change."

In fact, 79 percent of employees think companies should encourage healthy lifestyles. Cynthia McKay, 49-year-old founder and CEO of Le Gourmet Gift Basket Inc., with 28 employees and annual revenues of $1.5 million, was surprised when an employee mentioned that junk food in the office sabotaged her diet. "I thought my employees were just surfing on the chocolate and liking it," she says.

McKay decided to get rid of the sugary treats and started stocking the office kitchen with fruits and vegetables. She also contributed to employee health-club memberships, started a video-led Pilates class, and instituted quarterly massages. "Each project is potential for improvement," she says.

There are many kinds of health programs you could offer, such as lunchtime walks, nutrition seminars and subscriptions to health information websites. But what if your employees don't bite? To get your workers onboard, experts suggest recognizing employees who have made healthy changes by mentioning them in the company newsletter or at meetings.

Some companies also offer prizes for participation, such as exercise videos, walking shoes or subscriptions to fitness magazines. "[One] company offered a grand prize of a Harley-Davidson,'" says David Hunnicutt, Ph.D., president of The Wellness Councils of America, an organization dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles.

At McKay's company, productivity is up and so is morale. "It's paramount to take care of employees," she says. "If you look at these things as monetary investments, it's worth it."

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