4 steps to build employee health and fitness initiatives that work

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It’s been proven, time and again, that healthy employees are not only happier but also better at their jobs.

“When we feel well, we work well,” says Kami Neeley, director of strategic wellness consulting at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Modern employees expect their company to support them as a whole person — to go beyond the job they do and also focus on their needs. This approach recognizes that the most engaged, productive workforce has an environment that allows people to succeed in work and in life. ”

How, exactly, do companies create that kind of environment? WellTuned spoke with Neeley to get specifics.

Why is it important for companies to focus on employee health and fitness?

Neeley: Company wellness initiatives are mutually beneficial.

  • Employees get the value of being cared for by their company. And they know where to find resources to meet their own physical, emotional and financial needs.
  • Companies benefit from lower turnover, lower absenteeism and higher employee morale.

Studies back this up. People who participate in employer-sponsored health programs increase their productivity by 4%. And that percentage jumps to nearly 11% for sick workers who make positive changes. Even workers who are healthy before starting these programs are able to get more done during the workday after participating. Experts attribute most of these positive effects to lifestyle changes: better nutrition, more exercise, less stress.

What role does mental health play?

Neeley: Mental health can be a major barrier to reaching overall health and wellness goals. If an employee is experiencing constant stress, anxiety or depression, it can feel impossible to make healthy decisions or changes for their own wellbeing. That’s why helping employees manage their mental and emotional health should be a top priority of any wellness program.

How about the management of chronic health conditions?

Neeley: Having a chronic condition can affect every part of an employee’s life. There are physical, emotional and financial challenges that come along with managing any ongoing condition. Set up support for each of these areas. And make sure your program administrators know where to direct people for help with common chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc.

What steps can companies take to promote wellness?

Neeley: Launching a new wellness initiative can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Use these 4 steps to get started:

1. Identify your resources 

Neeley: Determine which resources you already have that can promote health and wellbeing. Then determine which areas need improvement. Consider your physical space, budget, staffing and current health and wellness programs while building these master lists.

2. Prioritize changes 

Neeley: Decide what changes you’re willing and able to make to improve employee wellbeing. Consider ideas that will benefit both in-office employees and remote workers.

For example:

  • Onsite employees might like healthier vending-machine options, a safe walking area outside or a private room designated for stress breaks.
  • Remote employees might appreciate virtual fitness classes, team wellness challenges, or community volunteer days.

3. Ask employees for input

Neeley: Share your ideas with your employees and ask for feedback. Use an anonymous survey to get the most honest responses. And hold small focus groups or create a wellness committee to foster discussion.

Be open to new ideas generated this way. And be sure to let employees know when their suggestions are enacted.

4. Take action

Neeley: Choose which initiatives you want to do first and get started. Focus first on initiatives that have the most employee interest, support your company culture and will benefit the most people.

If you still feel unsure of where to start, the CDC offers free educational resources for employee wellness initiatives. You can use their scorecard to help you assess your company’s current wellness strategy.

Anything companies shouldn’t do when it comes to wellness?

Neeley: Don’t make wellness initiatives a requirement of employment. Not only are there legal reasons for this, but the purpose of offering wellness programs is to support employees with their own health goals and needs. Only your employees can say for themselves what they need.

Are there any specific initiatives that tend to work for all companies?

Neeley: Not really! Every company is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all wellness solution. I’ve found that some wellness initiatives succeed in one company but don’t work in another, similar company.

In general, companies need the following to succeed:

The bottom line: Don’t be afraid to fail! If some initiatives just don’t take off like you’d hoped that doesn’t mean that your next attempt won’t be a success. Keep trying to see what works.

To learn more about wellness initiatives from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, visit its website to see what plans they offer.

More on employee health from WellTuned

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.