Don't Rubber-Stamp Your Company's Wellness Program Employers have multiple reasons to really encourage their workers' fitness and grant a financial incentive for follow-through.

By Zeynep Ilgaz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

At our office, it's not uncommon to see employees who are working on their computers or talking on the phone gently bouncing in their exercise-ball chairs to sneak in a core workout in.

Work performance and fitness go hand in hand and employers are increasingly turning to wellness programs to improve employees' quality of life and reduce health-care insurance costs. Promoting wellness also gives companies a competitive edge when it comes to their attracting and retaining talent.

Related: How to Get a Workplace Wellness Program for Your Office

Healthy employees can save companies money in other ways, too. According to a 2011 report on a Gallup poll, "full-time workers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers." That amounts to more than $153 billion in productivity that's forfeited each year.

Although emphasizing healthy behaviors seems like a no-brainer, many companies devise a basic wellness plan but fail to promote it, which causes their initiatives to fall short. Creating a dynamic, evolving program that will keep employees engaged is essential for reaping the benefits that promoting wellness can provide.

Healthy employees can mean a healthier bottom line

Employees who practice healthy habits may perform their roles more efficiently and miss fewer days of work. This might result in fewer costly doctor visits and health insurance claims.

In a Harvard Business Review report on wellness programs, Johnson & Johnson's leaders estimated that its initiatives have cumulatively saved it $250 million in health-care costs in a 10-year stretch and "from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent."

Wellness programs can also empower employees to change unhealthy habits and make healthier lifestyle choices. They can lead to lower turnover rates and higher morale because employees appreciate knowing that employers care about their health and happiness.

Although these benefits may sound enticing, creating a wellness program that achieves these goals can be tricky. Here are a few things you should include in your initiative:

Related: The Startup CEO's Ultimate Guide to Combating Stress & 'Silicon Valley Syndrome'

Offer health screenings and fitness assessments. Provide consultations and screenings to identify health risks and design an optimal exercise program to help employees reach their fitness goals.

Host education and intervention activities. Sponsor workshops on wellness issues such as nutrition, exercise, physical activity and tobacco use.

Promote good nutrition. Swap the typical vending machine items for more nutritious options, organize healthful potlucks at the office and offer wholesome snacks during meetings and breaks.

Maintain a focus on physical activity. Encourage employees to take stretch breaks, offer fitness classes or discounted gym memberships or host a corporate team's participation in runs and marathons.

Publish a wellness newsletter. Keep employees on the same page with a publication that features relevant medical news, health tips, recipes and information about local charity walks and other fitness events.

Set up incentive programs. Encourage participation in healthier events and habits with incentives such as water bottles, insulated lunch bags, health-oriented cookbooks or pedometers.

Pump up your team

When employers institute a wellness program but fail to cultivate and promote it, the program does not generate the same results. As a company's workflow increases, employees' caring for themselves often becomes a low priority. So employers need to motivate and encourage employees' participation in fitness and health programs to ensure that they work.

When developing a dynamic wellness program, consider this advice to boost participation:

Related: 8 Tips for Staying Healthy in an Open Office

Create easy opportunities. Try to limit wait times and red tape to make employee participation as simple as possible.

Communicate effectively. Be sure to publicize and clearly explain the benefits of the company's wellness program.

Lead by example. When managers and supervisors participate, this sets a good example for the rest of the team.

Involve employees in the discussion. Solicit ongoing feedback from the people using the program. This sends the message that employees' opinions count, and great ideas will undoubtedly surface.

Reward participation. Offer gift cards or extra company perks as incentives to motivate employees to engage in healthy practices.

A didactic wellness program can sharpen employees' performance and improve their quality of life. And when a company invests in its employees' healthy behaviors, health care costs may decline and while the benefits of an active and vibrant workplace surge.

Related: How to Curb the Stress Factor at Your Startup

Wavy Line
Zeynep Ilgaz

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder and President of Confirm Biosciences and TestCountry

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with two suitcases and the drive to dive into entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry in San Diego. Ilgaz serves as president of both. Confirm BioSciences offers service-oriented drug-testing technologies.

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