When it comes to high blood pressure, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise, South Africa has the rather dubious honor of being a world leader. According to a recent report by the Global Cardiovascular Disease Atlas, South Africans are consuming more unhealthy processed foods and exercising less, increasing their risk of contracting so-called lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
This has resulting effects, not only for the individuals themselves who suffer from these often debilitating diseases from as early as their thirties, but also for the companies they work for and the economy as a whole.
According to Corporate Wellness Magazine, an employer gets approximately $4 (R40) back on every $1 (R10) spent on employee wellness programs through fewer sick days, higher productivity and increased overall health costs. A sick employee is not a happy nor productive employee.
Corporate wellness programs need not cost the earth. The first step is to understand that just the smallest changes could offer huge benefits in building a happy, healthy and productive workforce.
3 simple ideas to get the ball rolling:
1. Get them out of their seats
Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time to a number of lifestyle diseases, including heart disease and even cancer. Offering exercise programs during working hours means your staff is available and more likely to participate. It also offers the added benefit of breaking a mid-afternoon productivity slump by pushing up heart rates:
Hire a yoga, Pilates, aerobics or dance instructor to come in to the office and give a class twice or three times a week.
- Start an office walking/running club.
- Start an office sports team.
Depending on the fitness program, you may need to look at in-house showers or negotiate a deal with a nearby gym to allow employees access to their facilities. It is, however, quite possible to do a gentle yoga or Pilates class without breaking too much of a sweat.
2. Get rid of the junk food and offer access to healthy foods
To improve employee health, you want to ensure quick and easy access to the kind of foods that will not only ensure long-term good health, but also keep them energetic and nourished throughout the day.
- First get rid of the junk. Clear out the chocolates and chips vending machines, get a nutritionist to inspect the cafeteria menu and restrict access to snacks. At the very least, you should not be encouraging diets of sugary, processed foods.
- Negotiate a deal with a caterer focused on providing healthy foods. A trolley of nutritious meals wheeling around the office daily will encourage healthy diets.
- Provide a box of fruits and veggies. A number of small-scale and organic farmers deliver daily or weekly boxes of fresh produce to homes and offices at very low cost. A weekly box of fruits and veggies could cost as little as R90 per box. Get one or two delivered weekly for your employees to help themselves. You could even encourage them by posting delicious salad recipe ideas in the kitchen.
3. Offer an incentive program
Healthy employees will be happier – and therefore work harder – and offer greater productivity than ill employees. You offer productivity incentive bonuses, so won’t it make sense to offer health incentive bonuses too? If you can’t afford to offer financial incentives, additional leave or other perks could also help.
Here are a few must-dos you could offer financial or other incentives for:
- Quitting smoking: cigarettes remain the number one health danger. Employees who smoke also spend more time off the job than non-smokers. Financial incentives to quit could go a long way.
- Joining exercise classes: this could encourage workers to participate who may otherwise be unwilling.
- Good health or health improvement: bringing in a GP or nurse once or twice a year to monitor things like cholesterol and blood pressure could help empower your employees to take charge of their health. You could offer bonuses for those in good health or those who show an improvement in their health.
Beyond the financial and productivity benefits that come from an in-house wellness programme, you are also showing your employees that you care about them. Every employer wants their staff to work for the greater good of the business. Perhaps the first step in achieving this is to show your employees the business cares about their greater good too.