By Kristi Bracewell Founder/ Owner of Totasola, Employee Wellness Consulting –
I think we all have experienced the enjoyment of a sweet indulgence at work when a colleague or vendor graciously brings in donuts to the workplace, whether it is for a morning meeting or to sit on the counter in the breakroom. “Help Yourself” says the note on the baker’s dozen donut box. Just the smell alone draws us in and the voices in our head begin to rationalize how and why we unequivocally deserve this sweet treat. We indulge in a donut (okay, maybe two), wash it down with a great cup of coffee, and go about our meeting or workday perhaps even remembering to thank the colleague who sprung for that day’s donut supply.
So, what if one day, your company decided to change its policy as it relates to offering healthier food options in the spirit of creating a “wellness culture” in the workplace? The policy could, in theory, state that only healthy foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, quality whole grains, low fat dairy and meat protein) will be permitted at company meetings, including what is left in the employee breakroom. This announcement could potentially create some raucous among employees who feel that their employer should not be meddling with their food choices at work. Really…no more donuts at work? Says who?
Well, believe or not it is legal to not allow certain foods in the workplace! The permissibility of employer being able to implement such a dreaded rule (for donut-lovers) is wrapped up in a two words: worksite policy. There have been numerous employers in our nation who have taken this step to create worksite policies that support the goals and mission of their employee wellness program. In the world of employee wellness, we call this environmental wellness policies. The argument is that if you create an environment at work to support healthy behaviors, employees are more apt to develop healthier habits that will sustain long-term behavior change. A workforce that is committed to healthier habits will lead to greater productivity and over time, be less of a burden on the company’s health insurance plan.
Now, merely forbidding unhealthy foods at the workplace will most likely not be enough to produce a healthy population in all areas of wellness, health and disease management. In addition to creating an environment that supports healthy behaviors, there are several other strategic steps that an employer will need to take if they are serious about investing in the health and wellness of their employees. Environmental policy changes such as “you-can-no-longer-offer-donuts-at-work”, are typically implemented following the success of various wellness interventions, programs, and services that have been in place over the years. It takes time for employees to see and trust that their employer has the best of intentions in terms of investing in their health behaviors. Once this trust is developed and employees feel supported, policies related to food choices, for example, are naturally well-received because of the culture of worksite wellness that morphed over the years.
I have had the most rewarding career over the past five years in witnessing the benefits of a coordinated and strategic wellness program come to life and flourish among an employee population of over 5,000. What started as simple ideas on a legal pad has developed into a program that is averaging 1.8 million dollars in lower healthcare costs on an annual basis. For a self-insured health plan, that is money back in the operational budget which is music to any CFO’s ears. For the employees, they report more energy at work, less visits to the physician, fewer sick days, and greater productivity while at work and at home.
As an employee wellness consultant, I look forward to sharing with you specific steps and strategies you can consider in your efforts to implement a comprehensive employee wellness program. My goal is to help decision makers, both in the public and private sectors, understand that managing medical risks with a comprehensive approach to total employee health management is a proactive in nature, and one that will reap a financial return, if done right. For example, in just taking the steps to keep your healthy population healthy (which typically is about 60% of your workforce), is a wise cost aversion model in and of itself. Shifting employees from a medium cost risk bucket to a lower risk bucket has cost savings associated with it. I am sure you get the picture. If cost is a barrier to not beginning a wellness program for your employees, keep in mind there are program models out there, depending on the level of complexity and detail, that can prove to be a self-sustaining financially speaking. In other words, the program can pay for itself in addition to saving your health plan money. Have your attention now, CFO’s?
If you are an employer that has been considering taking steps towards creating a healthier workforce, remember that it could be the smartest investment you could ever make. While I would not recommend coming out of the gate banning donuts in the breakroom as your first wellness initiative, I would suggest taking some initial steps to consider what your company can do to begin to make a positive impact on the health and productivity with your employees. In just a few years, you will look back and see the financial results in lower medical costs, improved employee health and well-being, increase in company morale and loyalty; and quite frankly, a satisfaction in knowing you did the right thing for the greatest asset your company has: Your employees.
Now hurry… grab a donut while you can. Next time, your choices may exclusively be grapes, quinoa salad, and carrot sticks at the conference room table!
Totasola is an employee wellness consulting firm that advises organizations how to effectively implement a results-driven employee wellness program. Our process is highly customized for each client. We recognize that each organization has unique needs and operational differences. We address these variables and work within the framework of that organization.
Our mission is to guide our clients in their pursuit to create a healthy workforce; and, inspire them to live out these healthy behaviors at work, at home, and within our communities. Totasola has a unique way of auditing the needs of your organization in order to determine what types of programs and services are best suited for your employees. We look at the practicality and individuality of your workforce and create an employee wellness playbook that is both realistic and easy to implement.
We teach your organization how to activate wellness at the grassroots employee level to initiate and maintain healthy behaviors. We are different in our approach; we cause you to think about program elements that most advisors gloss over. From the initial planning phases to detailed marketing and communication strategies, we provide expert advising throughout all stages of program implementation.
Implementing an effective employee health and wellness program takes time and effort. More importantly, the program needs to be tailored and customized to meet the specific needs of each employee. Creating the plan is the most important step. In fact, the plan will most often make or break the success of your employee wellness program.
For more information please contact:
Kristi Bracewell, Founder/ Owner