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Companies Gain Competitive Advantage by Improving Employee Health Encouraging employee wellness turns out to be one of the best productivity investments companies can make.

By Pratik Dholakiya Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Health care insurance has been a contentious national issue for a while now, even taking center stage in the recent mid-term elections for the Senate.

While the jury is still out on whether the healthcare reforms brought in with the Affordable Care Act make sense in the long run; employers of all sizes have been racing to find the "golden mean' for their employee healthcare plans. And justifiably so.

Related: What 3 Companies Are Doing to Keep Employees Healthy

According to data from Aon Hewitt, employers will be shelling out a whopping $11,176 per employee on average in healthcare costs this year. Healthcare costs have been rising 7 percent to 8 percent annually the last six years. These growing costs are a testament to the worsening lifestyles that a majority of Americans lead today. Sedentary lifestyles combine with unhealthy food habits leading to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and even various forms of cancer that have turned into the largest killers in this generation.

Healthier employees benefit employers

It's no secret that healthy employees are more productive, creative and take less time off work, all of which makes the company more efficient, competitive and, ultimately, profitable.

What is less known is that offering employee preventive and lifestyle improvement health programs actually leads to cost savings for employers in terms of medical costs. Health Affairs reports that the "average employer medical costs fell $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, and costs for days that employees were absent fell an average of $2.73."

So what are the smartest companies doing to promote health and fitness at work and indirectly save huge dollars in healthcare costs?

Here are some fun wellness practices you might consider initiating at your own workplace.

Related: 4 Hacks for Lowering Health-Care Costs While Improving Employee Health

Walking trails and working out

Did you know that people with "sitting' jobs had twice the rate of cardiovascular disease compared to those with "standing' jobs? Companies have caught on to this fact pretty quickly and have come up with creative solutions for the issue of sedentary desk jobs.

We humans are lazy (and greedy) by nature. If there's nothing in it for us, chances are we may not be interested in such a thing at all. So employers around the country are now offering real-world incentives to get active and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A healthy snack bar or serving wholesome meals at lunch hour is a given. Gyms at the workplace is been there, done that.

That explains the newfound craze for standing desks that is sweeping workplaces around the world. Software maker ACS Technologies went further and built a half-mile walking trail that runs right through their campus for impromptu walks that break the day's monotony.

Healthy commutes

Sitting (again!) in our cars, battling endless traffic, is a daily fact of life for many Americans. Employers recognize the fact that using public transport not only keeps you up and about, it is also easier on the environment.

Companies like Kaiser Permanente offer their employees dedicated commuting allowances. Employees are encouraged to bike to work and are offered special incentives to do so.

Google is another bike friendly company. With hundreds of free bikes dotting the Google campus, it's tempting to move around different buildings on a bike in a matter of minutes.

Longer maternity leaves and time off for soul nourishment

Getting pregnant and having a baby is a major health event for female employees. Unfortunately, too few employers around the country offer decent maternity leave and care options, leading to over-stressed female employees who can't perform to their fullest potential with the ever-present worry of their new-born at the back of their minds.

Google offers 22 weeks of fully paid maternity leave – the highest in the country – with seven weeks of paternity leave to go with it. It also offers a unique $500 "takeout stipend' for new parents who are too swamped to cook, immediately after a baby is born. The increased leave time alone helped Google reduce attrition among female employees by 50 percent.

These initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg. From having in-house chiropractors to relieve employees' stress, to letting employees bring their pets to work, to conducting intra-mural sporting tournaments, the ideas to get employees healthier and happier have been off the charts in their creative genius. Take your pick or think up some of your own, if you are serious about controlling your healthcare costs and building a more productive workplace.

Related: How to Encourage Employee Wellness Without Being a Jerk

Pratik Dholakiya

Founder of Growfusely

Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.

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