Friday, June 5, 2020

Employers should ramp up their employee wellness programs

As your workplace goes back into operation you will notice that your coworkers look a little different.

It’s just not their shaggy hair or grey streaks showing because of the barbershop and salon closures. It’s also their waistlines: Due to inactivity, stay-at-home orders, and increased consumption due to boredom or depression, many people packed on what some health officials are calling “the Covid 15”.

Quite a few of my coworkers fall into that category, having put on anywhere from 12 to 25 pounds. By the vigorous nature of our work -- the lifting, cutting and fast tempo – they’ll burn off most of that this summer.

Other Americans aren’t afforded that chance because they work behind a register or a desk. A lot of them will lose that weight once the State allows gyms to open, but many more won’t in the foreseeable future. Two to three months equals a lifestyle change; the weight they put on could stay and maybe add a few friends along the way. It’s mentally and physically hard for people to get back into the saddle after such downtime and such impact.

Alas, the outcome of society fighting Covid collectively could make these people fight Covid individually. You see, the coronavirus hit hardest not just the aged but also people with conditions like diabetes and heart and lung diseases. All of those triggers have some if not all basis in the lack of physical activity and/or the enjoyment of vices or bad decisions, such as a poor diet or smoking. So, the various government lockdowns in effect created candidates ripe for pillaging by the virus.  

What we can we do as a society to right that wrong?

I challenge employers to really ramp up their employee wellness programs.

At some businesses, these voluntary – sometimes compulsory – programs are done in an effort to cut back on ever-rising health insurance costs by changing the behaviors of the insured. The bottom line only drives the endeavor and can seem disingenuous.

At other workplaces, these programs are a little less toothless, and maybe a little too cute, attempting to improve outcomes through group activities and challenges, some of them never being enough to change the person or the world.     

It’s time to ditch those mindsets (well, at least make them secondary) and approach wellness in an entirely different way: A strong and healthy body is a necessary weapon in the fight against Covid-19. It protects the person, their families and the community.

How long will the virus be with us? What will nature or biological warfare come up with next?

We could be looking at years of a public health roller coaster as the world fights waves of this and whatever else comes our way.  We need to be ready to win those battles and the war.

To make the pursuit of health attractive you need to give your employees the tools to succeed, just like you would in their workstation. That starts with an employee benefit -- money.

If your insurance company doesn’t have a wellness benefit, start your own. Because our previous versions through our HMOs weren’t the best in terms of consistency or depth, we started our own at the plant on January 1 – coincidentally, the best year to do it.

Through our program, we fund each member of our team up to $200 a year for a gym membership. But, knowing gyms aren’t for everyone – especially now as we navigate the Covid world – we also made that $200 available for home exercise equipment – universal gyms, free weights, heavy bags, kettle bells, yoga mats, treadmills, bicycles and other items. That’s what I meant by giving your employees the tools they need – these literally are tools.  

But, employer commitment is more than just dollars. It’s also constant messaging in your employee newsletters and finding them venues of support and training they may need.

Making such an outlay of money and time may seem unreasonable to some business owners. They should to look at the return on that investment: Healthier employees are happier employees; good health mitigates sick time and prevents downtime of your services or production lines; being able to battle Covid limits the chances of the virus bringing liability to the workplace; and there’s the outcome that wellness programs had always strived for – lower health insurance costs in the long term due to markedly and positively changed personal behaviors.

But, beyond the almighty dollar, do it because it’s right. Covid can have scary – and fatal -- impacts on families. So can all of the ailments that make some people targets for the coronavirus’s worst. Let’s give those we work with the kick in the butt, the incentive they need to live healthier and longer lives. Life’s too short as it is, let’s live it well.

From the 08 June 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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