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Jeffry Schneider: Are Employee Health Programs Worthwhile?

Business owners and managers are always under pressure to keep overhead down. Jeffry Schneider has come to see the value of a company’s investing in a healthy workforce. But it’s hardly a surprise that owners, while happy for any worker who decides to get fit, usually prefer to be shown that value in concrete terms before making a commitment.

It might seem counterintuitive, but most businesses could benefit from implementing an employee health program. At first, such a program might seem like a pleasant but nonessential expense. A manager putting time and money into a program like this could be seen as expressing his or her public-minded benevolence, or maybe expressing affection for his workers, but in either case, devoting attention to something other than the bottom line. It’s an expense – so the story goes – above and beyond what is necessary. Why not buy each employee a solid-gold Cadillac while we’re at it?

In fact, the health of one’s workforce is a very bottom-line consideration. Human Resources directors spend a lot of time anguishing over absenteeism and retention. The employee who misses work because he or she was susceptible to that year’s flu isn’t doing your company any good. The cost of these absences is high, least of all in terms of short-term productivity. As a few days stretch into weeks, employee’s compensation and healthcare expenses lay in wait. Most managers will tell you that absenteeism itself tends to be contagious, just like the flu. Once a few sick employees start calling out, the occasional healthy employee will feel emboldened to (cough, cough!) start “showing symptoms,” too – you’ve probably done this yourself.

Preemptive efforts to make your workforce healthy are a good way to nip all this in the bud. At least one survey suggests that the impact is perfectly measurable: overweight employees represent annual losses to their employers. Further, bad health habits among your employees hurt them as well as the business. Whatever an employer can do to inspire a healthy lifestyle will improve their employees lives, and it will benefit the business since regular exercise and a healthy diet alone reduce absenteeism. It’s a true “win-win scenario.”

There are any number of concrete actions you can take that can make a big cumulative difference company-wide. One of them is to replace the sugary sodas and candies in the vending machine with at least a few healthier break-time snack alternatives. Start with a few modest steps. Too much coffee isn’t good for us, but even workers strung out on coffee will be healthier than workers strung out on soda, especially if you hide the sugar. Provide a refrigerator and microwave, encouraging workers to bring in their own brown-bag lunches. These are usually healthier than what’s available in the vending machine, or the fast food place across the street.

Encourage gym membership by offering them to workers at discount. Provide adequate, and flexible, break time during the workday. Offer paid time off. Those interested in championing their employee’s health more eagerly can equip the office with adjustable standing desks. Much damage is done simply by sitting hour after hour on the job. Equipping the office with standing desks would certainly be a notable expense, but it should reduce absenteeism, enhance retention, and it might even prove to boost recruitment.

More owners and managers are beginning to share Jeffry Schneider’s enthusiasm for companies making these efforts to improve employee’s health and fitness. And why not?

It’s all right there in the bottom line.