An ounce of prevention

How to have your employees fit and keep your healthcare costs down

It has been said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. That adage can also ring true for small business owners. By making small changes and adding a wellness program, you, too, can keep the doctor away, your healthcare costs down, and create a high-performing workplace.

With healthcare costs and premiums increasing 15% to 30% a year and 50% of the population obese and hypertensive, many companies are looking for alternative solutions. A wellness program or a wellness-type approach for your business may be just what the doctor ordered.

Where to begin

One of the best places to begin adding a wellness program is to find out what the cost drivers are, which can be accomplished by having a health risk assessment performed. A health risk assessment generally includes a lifestyle questionnaire, health screening, and counseling/coaching.

At the end, the employee receives a report of their individual finings and the company receives a group report, which is a valuable tool for understanding the needs of their population, what risks they have, and what targeted interventions their population would most benefit from.

“As you recognize where the problems are and the more you’re educated on what your real cost drivers are, the more you recognize what the potential savings are by applying a wellness program,” says Aaron Marston, an expert in the fields of exercise science and athletic training, is the executive director of The HIT Center ( of Jacksonville LLC and Healthletix Management LLC.

The cost of wellness

“Studies have been done on the return on investment of wellness, and all of them come up with for every $1 invested in wellness there is a return on investment of $3 to $6,” says Ann Sabbag, MS, CEO and founder of HealthDesigns (, a leader in worksite wellness specializing in employee health assessments, biometric screenings, and face-to-face health coaching.

That is quite the return on investment when you consider that adding some sort of wellness program to your business doesn’t have to be expensive.

“There are a lot of changes a company can make within their company to really create a fit culture in their workforce,” says Marston. “Regardless of what you have for a budget to provide for your wellness program, you can always do something for your employees. It can be something as small as quarterly educational in-services, such as bringing in a dietician or lifestyle coach to speak to your employees, or what you purchase for your vending machine—these are all things that really don’t cost much of anything.”

“Employees, as well as the organization, benefit when employers provide the tools and education they need to help improve their health and make it easy for them to do so in a supportive environment,” adds Sabbag. “The greatest thing is that employees want to be healthy, they just need the right information and some support and believe they can be successful.”

Changing for the better

Does your kitchen or break room constantly stock donuts, cookies, and soda? When you order food in to the office, is it pizza and burgers?

“Companies really need to take a look at their work environment because if they want employees to improve their behaviors and make healthy choices, they need to make it easy for the employee to do so,” says Sabbag. “You don’t have to make elaborate changes; it’s the small things that make the big difference.”

Some easy-to-incorporate workplace wellness approaches include:

• Serving healthy foods at company sponsored events;

• Having healthier snacks on hand in your breakrooms and kitchens;

• Providing bottled water or a water cooler;

• Asking your vending machine vendor if it’s possible to change to healthier options;

• Seeing if you can have a section or area for healthy food,  such as a salad bar or fresh fruit, and entrees that are low fat, high protein, and high fiber in your company’s or building’s cafeteria;

• Starting an intramural kickball or softball team;

• Selecting healthier food choices for those working lunches;

• Picking an event per quarter that you and your staff will participate in, such as a walk for the cure or a charity 5K;

• Creating a challenge within your workforce where you have multiple teams working against each other and they get points per mile or minute walked or per pound of weight loss;

• Sponsoring a community walk or run, and then offering to pay half or all of the registration fee to any employees that form teams;

• Mapping out a one-mile walking course around your workplace or building;

• Encouraging your employees to use the stairs. You can even decorate the stairwells with artwork from employees’ children or local artists;

• Providing a small, non-elaborate fitness rooms or offering fitness equipment that can be checked out;

• Paying for gym membership if employees turn in a weekly log from when they attended the gym and worked out;

• Putting volleyball nets or basketball hoops or court in a small area or parking lot; and

• Encouraging employees to conduct walking meetings. It can be easily done with four to five people and the same amount of information can be covered and discussed in a more pleasant, active way.

The bottom line

“It needs to be an approach that they are going to be able to use consistently and it can’t seem like a punishment,” says Marston. “In order for it to be a long-term solution and for you to get the return on investment, it needs to be something the employees want to do.”

Sabbag sums it up by saying, “The bottom line is if we can get employees to be more physically active, eat fewer calories, manage stress, and not use tobacco, everything improves—cardiovascular health, diabetes, osteoporosis, weight, and cancer.”

“Health risks go down and health costs follow right after. People will have more energy spirit and vitality less health risks and wellness really can be the magic bullet when it comes to driving down healthcare costs.”

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