Many employees working in small businesses handle multiple responsibilities. When such employees are not at work, the lack of their productivity impacts their employer’s business. Absenteeism due to illness can be a big problem for the small employer, even if the employee is not paid while absent. However, in the state of New Jersey and in New York City, mandated paid sick leave requires most employers to pay their eligible employees (those who have been employed for at least 120 days and work more than 80 hours in the calendar year) up to 40 hours of pay annually while absent from work due to illness, among other reasons.
While we expect a certain amount of absenteeism in the winter months due to employees catching colds, what’s worse is an employee who is absent due to the ‘flu, and who could have avoided suffering from that bout of ‘flu, simply by getting the ‘flu vaccine. Let’s take neglect of one’s own healthcare a little further. Consider the employee who has a manageable health condition, but whose health condition takes a bad turn because the employee failed to follow the medical protocol set by a physician, or by not even going to a physician in the first place.
Medical claims have a direct effect on the cost of healthcare. Obviously, preventive care (such as regular checkups and healthcare maintenance) is far less expensive for your health plan than incurring large medical claims. What really hurts though, in addition to the suffering employees might endure, is that some large medical claims may have been prevented by proper ongoing management of one’s health. The intent here is not to blame the poor sick employee, but to recognize that as employers we may be able to assist employees to remain healthy and reduce cost for our health plans, simply by encouraging “wellness.” Wellness can be an effective business strategy and, more importantly, benefit your employees.
So how is a wellness program introduced into the workplace? Your broker should have a number of suggestions, but often it starts with a few small steps:
- Announce your company’s new focus on health and wellness through meetings, email and other media. Be sure to promote this as an advantage to employees. It should excite employees, not cause fear! Make health and fitness a company objective.
- Create a Wellness Committee who are your cheerleaders for health and fitness and who arrange and encourage participation in various events.
- Start a step challenge and give pedometers to participants. Step challenges are available through many major medical insurance carriers and fitness device makers such as FitBit. Divide your employees into teams. Whichever team wins the step challenge, celebrate their accomplishment by awarding each of them with a small prize or treating them to a healthy lunch.
- Encourage weight management. Award prizes to employees who want to lose weight for meeting certain phases of their weight loss goal. Do not embarrass any employee by stating his or her current or goal weight. Small prizes could be given to employees for reaching certain levels. For example, at 50%, 75% and 100% of their weight loss goal.
- Try to incorporate mainly healthy snacks in your vending machine.
- Negotiate a discount on gym membership for your employees with a local fitness center.
- Encourage your employees to get their annual ‘flu shot and to get regular blood pressure measurements.
- Speak to your broker or insurance carrier about offering employees voluntary and completely confidential health risk assessments. A health risk assessment, which usually consists of questions about a person’s family health history, eating habits and physical activity, can help to identify possible health threats. You could offer a small prize, such as movie tickets, to employees who complete the assessment.
- Annual enrollment is approaching. You may soon be holding meetings for your employees about the health plans your company offers. Include some fun contests, drawings and/or presenters on staying healthy.
It’s important to make your Wellness program fun for employees. Contests and incorporating other ideas where employees focus on their fitness, health and wellbeing can increase camaraderie, productivity and workplace enjoyment.
If you would like to learn more about employee wellness programs or would like assistance with this or other Human Resources needs, let us know!
I have more than 25 years of experience in HR Leadership that spans the healthcare,education and financial services industries. I also hold a law degree (LLB) with honors from the University of London and have SPHR and SHRM-SPC designation from HRCI and the Society for Human Resource Management, respectively.
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