Healthy Workplace 'Benefits' Employees and Employers

With costs rising for medical care benefits, companies are cutting back on healthcare spending. However, employers can provide access to more healthy options at the workplace as an added "benefit" to their employees.

The price for overweight, obese and physically inactive employees is increasingly borne by employers who see their insurance costs and workers' compensation premiums go up as productivity declines. Unhealthy workers require more medical care, take more sick days and are less productive on the job.

According to the World Health Organization, "Workplace physical activity programs in the USA can reduce short-term sick leave (by 6 to 32 percent), reduce health care costs (by 20 to 55 percent), and increase productivity (by 2 to 52 percent)."

Workers spend so many of their waking hours on the job that achieving healthy eating habits and reaching physical activity goals is virtually impossible without opportunities for working adults to get their five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables and 30 minutes of physical activity during the work day.

The following are tips on how you can help your employees to eat healthy foods and be active at work now and in the coming year.

  • Healthy cafeteria options: Provide appealing menu options at all workplace foodservices and cafeterias at reasonable prices that meet healthy nutrition standards. Also, provide attractive, colorful salad bars at reasonable prices in workplace cafeterias, and prominently display or make nutrition information readily available to employees.
  • Healthy vending machines: Provide food choices in vending machines that meet healthy nutrition standards. These can include fresh, canned and dried fruits, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, plain or mixed nuts, low-fat bagged snacks, salads, nonfat yogurt and milk.
  • Snack room foods: Replace doughnuts, coffee, and sodas with 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, fruits, vegetables and whole grain bagels.
  • Tax deduction for healthy meals: Employers can take advantage of existing tax laws in some areas in order to provide healthy foods for their employees on a pre-tax basis and collect for it through payroll deductions. Some employers are providing delicious and nutritious catered meals for their employees pre-tax and at a very low cost. This benefit may also be provided by having fresh produce delivered for employees through arrangements made directly with local vendors or growers.
  • Restaurant partnerships: Develop partnerships with local restaurants in the area to provide low-cost healthy alternatives (i.e., lunch specials) for customers during work hours.
  • Shift schedules or extend lunch periods to allow time for physical activity: Time-shifting to create longer lunch periods can give your employees time for physical activity as well as time to eat. Lunch periods are often considered "off duty" periods, removing company liability for lunchtime workouts. The extended lunch time can easily be made up in the morning or evening. Alternatively, allowing workers to start or end their days earlier can help them access an outside fitness class not otherwise available.
  • Active commuting: Safe, secure and free bike storage as well as showering and changing facilities will encourage more to bike to work and engage in other activities.
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