Kickball, Yoga and You: Investing in Employee Wellness

  • By Kristen Gerencher, Marketwatch
  • June 18, 2014

employee wellness

For small-business owners inundated with the tasks of expanding, employee wellness is often far down the list of things to consider. But whether you have five employees or 5,000, paying attention to workers’ general health and helping people prevent or manage disabilities can pay off.

That was the theme at the Integrated Benefits Institute’s annual forum held recently in San Francisco, where more than 400 benefits directors and chief medical officers from companies large and small traded ideas about managing workers’ health, productivity and absences.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. By keeping activities fun for participants, small businesses often find they can weave wellness into their existing health and safety infrastructure, said Karen Curran, director of health risk management for Pinnacol Assurance, which sells workers' compensation insurance to 55,000 policyholders in Colorado.

Given an aging population and growing obesity nationwide, health risk factors and chronic medical conditions are putting more small companies at risk for high costs, Curran said: “If we’re going to move the needle, we’ve got to help the small guys.” Small businesses are especially well-positioned to launch homegrown programs because they know their culture and what motivates their people.

Employers can promote stop-smoking and nutrition classes, biometric screenings that help people monitor their blood pressure and cholesterol, and health-risk assessments by making them “more like recess than a spelling test,” Curran said. In a weight-loss challenge, for example, measuring results by teams’ total pounds shed can defuse the pressure individuals may feel to drop weight. “It’s camaraderie. It’s kickball on the playground, not ‘You have to do this or you’re going to be punished.’”

A variety of wellness offerings and incentives can work, from replacing office candy bowls with fruit to staging team-based physical activity contests, conference panelists said. But having a single-minded focus on return on investment is often self-defeating.

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