The question of how to motivate employees to stay healthy is a continuing problem for employers. How do you balance a work environment that fosters productivity and efficiency, while at the same time encouraging good health among your employees?

Productivity and Dollars Lost

The reason for encouraging health initiatives is clear; combating the negative impacts of poor health can save companies a lot of money. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually. A study by the American Journal of Health Promotion in May 2014 found that a morbidly obese employee costs an employer, on average, over $4,000 more per year in health care costs than an employee of normal weight does. Finally, absenteeism due to health issues negatively affects both productivity and morale. Total annual costs related to productivity loss from chronic health conditions reached as high as $84 billion annually across the U.S.

Motivation and Awareness

It’s important to know how to motivate employees without making it seem like you’re pushing the process on unwilling participants. You can get people to participate in a workplace wellness initiative by encouraging awareness and soliciting input by forming a wellness committee or focus group. Employees from all departments can contribute ideas for how to motivate employees to increase their fitness and improve their health.

Here are some specific ways to motivate employees to alter their lifestyles for the better:

  • Smoke-free initiatives: Most companies are smoke-free within the building, but you can sponsor smoking-cessation program to encourage employees to quit smoking out of work as well.
  • Easy access to nutritious foods: Change the food provided in break rooms and meeting rooms to include fruits and vegetables rather than the usual sugary pastries and donuts. Overhaul your vending-machine options to remove the unhealthiest options.
  • Evaluation of workloads: This includes management of hours, scheduling and stress levels. If your company can accommodate flexible hours, job-sharing or counseling for work-life balance issues, you may be able to relieve some of your employees’ stress.
  • Physical activity programs: This can include walking clubs, yoga and fitness classes, and more. Employees can exercise as a group. Peer-to-peer motivation is often a big driving factor in participation. Offer a variety of activities to appeal to different types of employees.
  • Preventative wellness: Sponsor a flu-shot clinic or hold health screenings at the workplace.

By setting a good example and providing benefits that employees want and need, you can motivate employeses to maintain better health. When you know how to motivate employees, you can improve their physical and emotional health in the long term and create big gains on their productivity and your bottom line.

Mary Parsons is retired from a 30-year career in the insurance industry.  She worked in the claims department of a major insurance carrier as a claims adjuster, manager and a member of a catastrophe team. Since her retirement, she has developed a career as a freelance writer. As an insurance professional, she has been a contributor to several insurance websites.