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TOPS: Investing in employee health pays off

Employee health programs can prevent or reduce health issues and educate employees to overcome health risks, including smoking and obesity.

MILWAUKEE, Wisc. (May 3, 2012) – May is Employee Health and Fitness Month, a good opportunity to promote the benefits of workplace wellness to employers and employees, according to the non-profit weight-loss support organization TOPS Club Inc.

TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) encourages employers to establish an employee wellness program. It not only improves employees’ health, but it can also contribute to a company’s bottom line.

The success of an employee wellness program depends on its structure and employees’ participation level, but in many cases, these proactive programs can prevent or reduce health issues and educate employees to overcome health risks, including smoking and obesity.

In a study performed by Drs. Richard Milani and Carl Lavie, 57 percent of participants were converted to “low-risk status” after a six-month wellness program, according to the Harvard Business Review,

An effective wellness program equips participants with knowledge and tips to manage stress, eat well, lose weight, exercise properly and more.

“Wellness programs help employees understand that they are ultimately responsible for their individual health,” explains Maggie Thorison, wellness manager for TOPS. “Many employees are literally changing their lives through wellness programs.”

Helping employees become healthier also will save employers’ costs in the long run.

Chronic diseases, obesity and other preventable health concerns can cost businesses thousands of dollars each year.

The indirect costs of poor health — including absenteeism, disability, and reduced work output — may be several times higher than direct medical costs, according to Healthcare.gov. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually.

The financial impact of employee wellness programs can vary, but many help companies save money on healthcare expenditures and absenteeism costs. Company medical costs fall an average of $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, and absenteeism costs decrease $2.73 for each dollar used, according to a February 2010 article in Health Affairs. Implementing an effective wellness program can help boost an organization’s productivity and rein in their healthcare costs.

Create an program that works

• Encourage employees to move. Make changes to your campus to promote exercise. Offer bike racks for commuters, start a lunch hour walking group, put together a team for a local run/walk or relay, kick off a simple walking challenge among coworkers, or create a workplace fitness center.

“Here at TOPS, we are in the process of turning one of our unused rooms into an exercise studio,” Thorison said. “We are starting with the basics – dumbbells, resistance bands, and stability balls. A gym doesn’t necessarily have to mean a treadmill.”

• Bring the gym to work. See if your local health club will provide an instructor to lead an on-site boot camp, yoga, or dance class. Offering this option, even just two or three times a year, may spark employees’ interest in fitness.

• Offer incentives. Motivate employees to participate in the wellness program by offering incentives.

“Items such as gift cards, sporting event tickets, or even paid time off are a great way to keep the program fun and keep employees enthused and engaged,” Thorison said.

• Ask employees to “invest” in their health. A monetary commitment by employees to their wellness may make them feel more accountable and more likely to participate. Employers could offer reimbursement if employees stick to the program for a set period of time.

• Lead by example. Management should participate in the wellness program to demonstrate the company’s and their personal commitment to a healthier work environment.

• Start an exercise DVD exchange. Ask if employees are willing to share their fitness DVDs with other employees and/or give them the option of following a DVD together during their lunch break or after work.

• Empower employees. Include a wellness section in the company’s newsletter and encourage employees to share their ideas and stories. Offer “lunch and learns” or other educational programming, so employees can make informed health decisions.

For more workplace wellness ideas, visit the TOPS blog, www.tops.org/WellnessBlog.

TOPS chapters in the workplace

Start a TOPS weight-loss support chapter for your employees. TOPS workplace chapters are an affordable, flexible and convenient opportunity for employees to take charge of their health and well-being. For more information, contact Thorison at [email protected] or 1-414-482-4620 x23, or visit www.tops.org.