‘Fit-Friendly Worksite’ Tips for Promoting Employee Health

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MeditationRecently, the American Heart Association (AHA) named First Green Bank  — a bank that “promote[s] positive environmental and social responsibility while operating as a traditional community bank” — a “fit-friendly worksite.”According to the AHA, this designation is reserved for “employers who go above and beyond when it comes to their employees’ health.” 

Looking at the workforce wellness initiatives that First Green Bank has in place, it’s easy to see why the AHA gave them the nod:

  • an onsite gymnasium at headquarters and workout equipment at other locations;

  • periodic office visits from personal trainers and yoga instructors;

  • nutrition coaching services;
  • Fitbits for every employee;
  • monetary incentives for employees who bike to work;

  • and onsite showers, too — for when employees work up a sweat.

“We have quite a number of health initiatives that are part of our benefits and also our mission itself,” explains Robbie Gossett, executive assistant to First Green Bank CEO Ken LaRoe. “Being green is a holistic approach [that] the senior management has taken to not only be good stewards of the environment and our community, but also of ourselves. It all fits in together.”

Gossett notes that First Green Bank follows the “triple bottom line”  (TBL) accounting framework, in which financial performance is only one of three important business metrics. In a TBL framework, businesses also see the environment and the social sphere as “bottom lines,” if you will. TBL businesses like First Green Bank care about profits, sure, but they also care about the planet and people. Profits, planet, people: the “3Ps” of the triple bottom line.

Given First Green’s environmental bent and its dedicated to the TBL, the company’s belief in employee health makes perfect sense.

But for more traditional companies, which may see the TBL as little more than so much starry-eyed idealism, employee health often takes a backseat to financial success. The thing is, in the experience of First Green Bank and many other employee health-oriented employers, workplace wellness has a major impact on productivity and profits.

Making a Business Case for Employee Health

“Healthy employees cost you less,” according to Leonard L. Berry, Ann M. Mirabito, and William B. Baun.  In a post on Harvard Business Review, the authors chronicle numerous examples of the “hard return on employee wellness programs.” One of the most interesting cases, in my opinion, is this one: 

In 2001 MD Anderson Cancer Center created a workers’ compensation and injury care unit within its employee health and well-being department, staffed by a physician and a nurse case manager. Within six years, lost work days declined by 80 [percent] and modified-duty days by 64 [percent]. Cost savings, calculated by multiplying the reduction in lost work days by average pay rates, totaled $1.5 million; workers’ comp insurance premiums declined by 50 [percent].

Employee wellness programs, then, can boost productivity by cutting down on “lost work days” and lower employers’ insurance costs. They can also, according to Gossett, boost employee morale.

“I think anybody, regardless of who they are, if they’re exercising and they’re getting in better shape than they were before, it helps them feel better overall, and of course that bleeds into everything else that they do,” Gossett says. 

Boosted employee morale leads to better customer service, according to Gossett: “We’re known to be a very personal group. To customers who have come in and worked with us, we’re known to be a pretty upbeat, friendly, easy-going group of people, and I like to think that’s at least partly to do with [our employee wellness program and company mission].”

Employee wellness programs can also help companies build better employer brands. Employees with high morale are employees who love their workplace. They’ll be ready, willing, and able to brag about it to everyone, spreading goodwill for the company. Talent tends to be attracted to employers that invest in their employees, and they’ll see that a company that dedicates so much time and energy to employee health is just such a company.

Want to Bring Wellness to Your Workplace? Be the Example

Asked if he has any advice for employers looking to institute successful wellness programs for their offices, Gossett says the most important thing is for senior executives and other higher-ups to set an example for employees.

“A big part of what we do is to educate and influence,” Gossett says.

As an example, Gossett mentions First Green Bank’s sustainable, LEED-certified buildings. Studies show that healthier indoor environments can increase work performance by up to 10 percent, but Gossett says there’s more to the buildings than boosting productivity. They also set a real, tangible example for employees.

“If we build a sustainable building, a big part of the reason we do that is because it’s much more impactful for someone to come in and see something for themselves, rather than to have somebody else just tell them about how beneficial it could be,” Gossett says. “I think the same is true for trying to encourage coworkers and employees to take care of themselves and to be healthy.”

When the time comes to implement employee health programs, leaders and managers should actively participate. That way, employees can really see the benefit and value of workplace wellness, and they’ll more readily join in.

“It just makes a lot of sense to encourage the workforce to take care of themselves,” Gossett says. “It’s all holistically interwoven and helpful in so many regards.”

By Matthew Kosinski