Four Keys, 6 Ideas: How to Improve Employee Heart Health

February 16, 2016

It's heart health awareness month. And as an employer, you can make a difference – both in your employees’ lives and in your business outcomes. For example, did you know that successful workplace wellness programs contribute to the following?

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Fewer accidents
  • Lower turnover
  • Increased ability to attract top talent
  • Medical costs that grow more slowly than industry norms

Not all wellness programs are so successful. In fact, some studies conclude there's very little an employer can do to improve employee wellness. But according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, those studies make a crucial mistake: they fail to differentiate the good from the bad.

A variety of recent research shows that "some wellness programs work superbly while others are abysmal failures," said Naomi Freundlich at Johns Hopkins. So what's the secret?

Bottom line, successful programs don’t stop at isolated initiatives. Rather, they build a culture of wellbeing.

The four keys in building a culture of health

  1. Lead by example. The personal choices that you and your executive team make are significant.
  2. Support your employees’ efforts. Encourage them to take time to exercise, eat well and reduce stress.
  3. Carrots, not sticks. Incentives are more effective that penalties. Keep it positive!
  4. Variety, variety, variety. Give employees options. Some will make strides; others, baby steps. It’s all good.

Six ways to make a lasting heart-health difference

  1. 10K steps a day. What does it mean to be more active? Try taking 10,000 steps a day. (It's not a silver bullet, but it is a great place to start.) For this goal, simple changes really add up, like taking the stairs or parking further away from the door. Encourage your employees to take two or three short walks a day, and make the mid-day walk a part of the lunchtime routine at work.
  2. There's an app for that. Can you offer your employees a free fitness tracker or motivational app, such as FitBit or Charity Miles? There's nothing like an exciting new toy to show you care (and inspire motivation).
  3. Get a membership. If you don't have a gym on-site, perhaps you could invest in a free or discounted group fitness membership, or partner with someone to host a fitness class on-site for employees who are interested.
  4. Improve the food. Vending machines, cafeteria, break room snacks. What can you do to improve the selection? In an office setting, one simple idea is to stock the break room with some of these 18 heart-health superfoods.
  5. Issue a challenge. Invite employees to set a fitness goal and share their progress whenever they’ve reached a new milestone. A shared challenge brings people together, building community around wellness, while keeping individual progress top-of-mind for everyone who gets involved.
  6. Institute group breaks. At regular times of day, pause work for ten minutes of stretching. This can make a big difference to workers at a call center or on a factory floor.

However you choose to do it, we encourage you to think about what you can do to build a culture of heart health in your workplace. Again, the goal isn’t just to make a difference this month, but for the long term. Need guidance? Our Benefit Advisory Services team is ready to help.

Like any move toward fitness, the most important step is the first one you make.