By Anna Johansson
There are many straightforward ways that businesses can become sustainable, but one of the best ways is to invest in employees. Employee health is a major cost for most companies, and as that cost keeps rising, more businesses are seeking more sustainable alternatives like employee wellness programs. According to one study, every dollar spent on employee wellness can lead to a six-dollar reduction in healthcare costs (including costs of health insurance and productivity lost due to illness). Fortunately, businesses don’t need to spend much money to see a substantial impact. Instead of investing in infrastructural changes, they can invest in changing the habits and lifestyles of their employees.
These are some of the most important habits to encourage in your workforce:
- Exercise. The power of physical exercise is hard to overstate; it improves both physical and mental health, and prevents a host of different medical conditions. Encouraging your employees to exercise more could involve company-sponsored gym memberships, exercise equipment at the office, or a corporate-sponsored fitness challenge, like those offered by Fitbit (both internally and with other companies). The rewards don’t have to be lucrative; even a casual-dress day for winners can be incentive enough to participate.
- Biking to work. Gas-powered vehicles are responsible for significant carbon emissions in this country, in large part because of our reliance on them for our daily commutes. If even a third of your workers start bicycling to work, rather than taking personal vehicles, you could instantly shrink your business’s carbon footprint (and help your employees stay healthier at the same time). New Belgium Brewing company incentivizes their employees this way, offering a free Fat Tire Cruiser bike as a reward for any employee on the job for more than a year (in celebration of the company’s Fat Tire Amber Ale).
- Influencing daily personal choices. It’s also important to help your employees engage in healthier daily practices, such as eating healthier foods and getting a full night’s sleep—which might have a higher impact on health than exercise. These habits will help them become happier and more productive, but will also reduce the amount of medical expenses they (and you) will face in the future. This cumulative cost production and productivity increase can help you invest in more large-scale sustainability efforts as well. Motley Fool, for example, offers free, open-access gyms, free spinning classes, and even subsidized, in-house, personal massages to improve employee wellness.
- Locally sourcing food. You can also promote more sustainable eating habits by stocking the break room with locally sourced food, and giving your employees more locally sourced options for their regular meals. Google has been stepping up its provision of healthier food and more vegetarian options in recent years. It’s long been known as one of the top companies for employee benefits, but recently, it’s reduced portion sizes of unhealthy snacks and made an effort to increase consumption of local vegetables.
The trick with these habits is, obviously, getting your staff to adopt them and stick with them. So how can you make that happen?
- Offer practical rewards. First, make it practically rewarding for your employees to participate in these measures. Free food is always a sure bet, and a reduction in health insurance costs could promote healthier lifestyle choices.
- Suggest resources. If you can’t offer helpful items or assistance immediately , you can direct your employees to further resources, such as farmer's markets for locally produced food, or bike shops to start biking to work.
- Set a good example. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re setting a good example as a leader. If you want your employees to start eating healthier, pack your own healthy lunches. If you want them to bike to work, lead the way. Encourage your supervisors and managers to keep this trend strong, visible, and consistent, and your employees will almost certainly follow suit.
It doesn’t take much to nudge your employees’ health choices in the right direction, and any change you make could have a substantial impact on your sustainability and your bottom line. Individual lifestyle changes, which only take a few minutes a day or minimal sacrifices to initiate, on a large enough scale, can result in a much cleaner, enjoyable environment and community. Make your business a leader in this area by proactively pushing for these habit changes, in addition to any large-scale efforts you’ve made to become more sustainable.
Image credit: Flickr / baudman
Anna Johansson is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @Number1AnnaJo.