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As health insurance costs skyrocket, even as benefits dwindle, so does the trend toward employers setting up wellness programs—71% of U.S. employers offered such programs in 2008.

The thinking goes like this: If employers offer programs and incentives so that employees can take better care of themselves (with smoking-cessation programs, nutrition coaching, exercise clubs, health-risk assessments), the cost of health care will fall—for employers and employees.

Is your office ready to be a part of the wellness movement? Here’s how to make the case to leadership and take some initial steps:

1. Make a “what’s in it for you” pitch to leadership,
since they may not be aware of the benefits of setting up a wellness program. Two facts to share with them:

  • A recent NASA study found that people who exercise have twice the stamina and productivity in the last two hours of the workday than their more sedentary colleagues.
  • Figures from one health insurance carrier show that members engaged in its wellness program experienced a 15% drop in claims over a three-year period. By the third year, companies with 5,000 employees or more record direct medical savings averaging $2.5 million.

2. Build employee incentives into any program, if possible. Experts say that participation in wellness programs declines when there’s no carrot. The average incentive value per person last year was about $200, according to one survey.

The most popular incentive among companies is a gift card. Show up for your annual health screening, for example, and receive a $100 gift card. Second most popular are premium discounts. This year at Black & Decker, for example, premiums will go down by $55 a month for nonsmoking workers and family members. Another idea might be a reduced membership fee at Weight Watchers or a health club.

3. Up the odds that employees will stay healthy by creating a workplace that feeds healthy habits. For example:

  • At breakfast meetings, replace doughnuts with fresh fruit and bagels.
  • Work with vending machine providers, cafeteria managers and vendors to offer healthy choices. Bad snacking habits often spring from convenience. If pretzels and bottled water appear in place of Snickers and Coke, guess what employees will buy?
  • Plan events that encourage employees to become active, such as stretch breaks, volleyball tournaments or contests. Some companies encourage “walking meetings” or replace expensive meeting-room chairs with $20 exercise balls. As a result, meetings are shorter and employees emerge with better posture.
  • Bring in a yoga instructor for an afternoon stretch session, or a nutrition expert for a Lunch ‘n’ Learn session on cooking with seasonal vegetables.
  • Launch a pedometer program. Wearing a pedometer can increase an individual’s walking by an average of 3,000 steps.

Last, be passionate about telling others about the program.

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