How to Build a Healthier Workplace

Jan. 23, 2020

employee input

Employees like knowing that their voices matter. Consider creating a committee or using surveys to get input from your employees in building your wellness program. 

"When done well, the return on investment is, arguably, worth it.”
— Matthew Shaffer, 
Senior Vice President of Major Group at BlueCross

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Other ideas that work 

The wellness team has a few other ideas that you can put to work in your office to make it healthier: 

  • On-site fitness facilities: If you can’t afford or don’t have the space for a full on-site gym, consider bringing in a personal trainer to host classes in a free room or outside every week or so. 
  • Flexible schedules: When you are stressed out, it affects your physical health. Most likely, employees are stressed about life, and if you can find a way to create flex schedules that work for your employees, it could help them better manage their stress. 
  • Team challenges: Creating an environment where employees are challenging one another will help build engagement in the program. 
  • Walking groups: You can encourage your employees to form walking groups or go outside for walking meetings. Consider allowing employees to wear sneakers to work. 
  • Sports leagues: Build teamwork and get active by creating leagues or joining local organizations — think softball, kickball or volleyball. 
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Encouraging employees to get active with walking or running groups at the office is another way to build interest. If you can, consider offering prizes or low-cost incentives like jeans days or flex time. 

“Don’t expect results overnight. This will take time.”— Thomas Orton, well-being consultant

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As your employees start setting their personal health goals for 2020, now is the time to consider setting a goal to make your workplace healthier. If you start now, by the end of the year, you and your employees may be making healthy choices and improving your overall wellness. 

And that’s not just good for your employees. It can be good for your bottom line, too. Some studies show that unhealthy working environments can lead to absenteeism, low productivity and higher health care costs. 

Healthy workplaces could improve outcomes for your employees, increase employee engagement and reduce health care costs for you. 

According to Matthew Shaffer, senior vice president of Major Group at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, studies also suggest that companies with high adoption of participation in employee well-being efforts also see greater gains in productivity as well an increase in (the harder to quantify) employee loyalty, a decrease in absenteeism and reduced claims cost. 

However, Shaffer cautions, there are some non-negotiable fundamentals that must be understood before companies embrace employee well-being as a major initiative. 

“To be successful, leaders must understand the importance of an organization’s culture before allocating resources. It is a commitment, and in many cases, requires a different way of thinking,” he says. “Leaders must also take the long view of success and understand that they are changing behavior. This approach doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does require an investment in time and in planning. When done well, the return on investment is, arguably, worth it.”

The wellness team at BlueCross has some ideas to get you started. 

Start with an assessment 

Anytime you are starting a new work project, you have to begin with a look at where you are currently and what you hope to get out of your new efforts. The same is true with this assessment. Start by asking your employees a few questions. For example:

  • What are you lacking? 
  • What do employees want? 
  • What do you want to achieve? 
  • What is your budget? 
  • What are some of your and your employees’ main health concerns? 

Thomas Orton, a well-being consultant at BlueCross, recommends looking at your data up front. Consider doing a health survey of your employees, he says. This will help you set measurable goals for your program. As you move forward with your program, make sure you collect data to track your program’s success. 

Get employees involved 

Employees like knowing that their voices are heard in company decisions. Consider forming a committee or using surveys to make sure employees know they are a part of the process. If you do create a committee, make sure you are including voices from across the company and from all work areas. Workers on a plant floor will have different concerns than workers at desks. This will help ensure when you do launch your wellness program, that it isn’t viewed as a directive from Human Resources. “Collaboration within the workplace is key. Don’t have it siloed off where no one knows what is going on,” says Valerie Gardner, supervisor of large group well-being at BlueCross. 

Consider holistic health 

The trend in the workplace well-being industry is to focus more on holistic health, not just making sure employees get in 10,000 steps a day. Whatever program you do put in place, make sure it considers mental health, financial wellness and mindfulness practices. 

Start small 

You won’t be able to change everything on day one. Consider picking one project and building your program from there. “Don’t expect results overnight. This will take time,” Orton says. Allow three to five years to get the program off the ground and growing.  

Incentivize wellness 

It works. If you have a budget, consider offering prizes like health trackers. The prizes don’t have to cost a lot. If you don’t have a budget, there are other options to incentivize — like paid time off (even just an hour or two) or jeans days, where you allow employees to dress more casually. Employee recognition can work well, too. “People like being recognized for their efforts,” Orton says. 

Make healthy food choices

Consider changing up options in your vending machine, if you have them. Or simply labeling the healthier items can help your employees make better choices. You could also consider a food policy that discourages birthday cakes or doughnuts. Or, if that’s too unpopular, at least require healthy options to be brought in along with the unhealthy foods. “When you’re trying to be healthy, it can be hard if there’s cake. Encouraging employees to bring in other foods makes it easier to make the healthier choice,” says Natalie Kerns, a wellness consultant with BlueCross. 

Go tobacco free

The health impact of tobacco is well known. One simple way you can make your work environment healthier is by cutting out the smoking spaces. If you can, offer tobacco cessation programs, too. 


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