How Businesses Can Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice for Employees

How Businesses Can Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice for Employees

Kristina Box, MD, FACOG, Indiana State Health Commissioner

Indiana is blessed with a healthy economy, but maintaining that status depends not just on business innovation and workforce development, but on building a healthy workforce.

Yet, at the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH), we hear frequently from business groups and employers that they are struggling to fill critical roles because applicants can’t pass a drug test due to the opioid epidemic impacting our state, or that they are seeing frequent turnover or reduced production because of employees’ poor health.

Indiana consistently ranks near the bottom nationally for the health of its residents, which impacts not just individuals, but companies’ bottom lines. Higher rates of obesity, smoking, heart disease and diabetes force businesses to shoulder the burden of a sicker and more expensive workforce, with higher insurance costs, greater employee absenteeism and decreased productivity that impacts the success of companies of all sizes. Healthcare costs for obese individuals average $1,400 more than those for their healthy weight peers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that a small business with 5 smokers could pay $30,000 more in medical costs and lost productivity, while the cost balloons to $600,000 annually for a large business with 100 smokers.

As Indiana’s state health commissioner, I am committed to helping Indiana become the best at getting better. But to do that, we need partners in our communities, working together to promote practices that improve the health of our population and our economy.

Businesses are in a unique position to help with this work. Employees’ behaviors are influenced by where they live, learn, work and play. Most people spend as many waking hours at work as they do at home, which gives employers ample opportunities to promote good health.

Building a culture of workplace wellness doesn’t have to be expensive, and businesses of all sizes can achieve results. Start by identifying opportunities to promote better health among workers. One strategy is to conduct a simple employee survey and use the results to identify ways to incorporate physical activity and healthy eating at your worksite. This can include adding healthy foods at eye level in vending machines or making water more accessible. Then identify ways to enhance your work environment. Implement policies, environmental supports and activities to provide employees with opportunities to make healthy choices. Adopt a healthy-meeting policy or look to incorporate healthy foods into catered events. Start slowly, and then gradually incorporate more healthy options.

Be sure to identify existing resources. Do you have an employee who is interested in teaching a lunchtime yoga class or lead a walk? Can you share success stories about employees who have quit tobacco or improved their health through an employee newsletter? Do your employees know about the Indiana Tobacco Quitline, which offers free tobacco cessation support to Hoosiers who call 1-800-QUIT-NOW? People find inspiration in many places, so identify what you already have and tap into it.

At ISDH, we strive to promote good health every day. We sponsor lunchtime walks for people of all fitness levels. A member of our team offers a lunchtime yoga class. A recognition wall currently features personal stories of how employees have taken steps toward better health. Last year, we encouraged people to take the stairs instead of the elevator through a “Small Steps” challenge, emphasizing that even small steps toward fitness can lead to big changes over time. And our all-volunteer employee wellness council promotes opportunities to access fresh foods and physical activity throughout the year.

We know that lasting change takes time, commitment and solid communication. That’s why we have created a guide (Available here) that can help employers build a sustainable culture of health and well-being.

Improving the health of our state and our workforce is a marathon, not a sprint. But by working together, we can make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Category Features, Last Word