It's hard to overestimate the value of a healthy workforce. Employees who are mentally and physically well tend to be more productive and miss fewer days from work. They also feel better about themselves, their jobs and their employers. Together, these outcomes can contribute to your company’s bottom line.
What can you do to help your employees prevent or manage their chronic health conditions and avoid the unhealthy behaviors that can contribute to them? Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pearland family medicine physician Jennifer Ukwu, MD, offers some useful tips.
Arm employees with information. “Each month represents a different opportunity to educate employees on a different health topic,” Dr. Ukwu says. “February is National Heart Month, for instance, and October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
She suggests using these national health awareness campaigns as a springboard for internal awareness campaigns. Employers can promote health tips on their company intranets and in employee newsletters. Invite local health care providers to speak on health topics at employee events. And encourage employees to team up to participate in local health organization events.
Encourage preventive care. Many employee-sponsored health plans provide preventive care, including health screenings and vaccinations, at little or no cost to the employee. But are your employees fully using these important benefits?
“It’s important for employees to be current on health, including cancer, screenings. Early detection really does save lives,” she says. “And every employee should know their numbers—their body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, resting heart rate, and blood sugar and cholesterol levels—and have a basic understanding of what they each mean,” she says.
Support workers’ mental health. According to the CDC, work-related stress is the leading workplace health problem and is a major occupational health risk, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity.
Dr. Ukwu urges employers to offer workers access to mental health resources (and encourage employees to use them). Provide competitive compensation, as making ends meet can be a key stressor. Offer flexible and/or remote work options. Foster a workplace culture that respects time off. And give employees tools for relaxation, such as onsite and online yoga and meditation classes.
A recent survey that the American Psychological Association conducted showed that 81% of workers surveyed said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health when they seek future job opportunities. So providing these resources might also aid your recruiting and retention efforts.
Prevent “sitting disease.” According to the American Heart Association, physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960. And this shift from moving to sitting is taking its toll, increasing employees’ risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Ukwu says employers can encourage employees to take frequent breaks and lunchtime walks. Offer standing desks to desk-bound employees. And provide access to fitness facilities. “If you don’t have fitness options onsite, partner with a local gym to offer your employees a discount,” she suggests.
Minimize workplace injury. When workers shifted to working remotely, many companies hired ergonomics consultants to help ensure their employees’ home offices were ergonomically safe. Dr. Ukwu suggests using your employees’ return to the workplace to revisit office ergonomics. “Proper ergonomics can help prevent health problems, such as muscle strain and imbalances, fatigue and carpal tunnel syndrome,” she says.
Help employees eat well. As the cost of groceries increases and employees remain pressed for time, a tendency might be to grab fast food on the way home from work. “One way companies can help their employees avoid this pitfall is to partner with one of the many prepared-meal providers to offer their employees discounts on healthful meal kits, which require minimal preparation, or fully prepared meals,” Dr. Ukwu says. “Engaging local meal providers is a plus.”
Looking for additional tips on how you and your employees can make 2023 a more healthful year? The primary care physicians affiliated with Memorial Hermann can help.