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Kristen Nichols HeitmanKristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, is an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

It’s not surprising that healthy employees typically make better employees. In addition to reducing healthcare costs, organizations that prioritize employee health by creating a culture of wellness can increase workforce productivity, improve employee engagement and reduce absenteeism and staff turnover. When an employee misses work due to illness or a medical procedure, they’re not the only ones affected. When they are absent from work, other team members need to complete more work to make up for that absence. According to the CDC, productivity losses linked to absenteeism costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion each year (or $1,685 per employee). An aging workforce, chronic conditions and additional factors like stress, fatigue and depression all impact employers’ medical costs and employees’ productivity and morale. As the cost of healthcare continues to rise, employers are turning to prevention — in the form of workplace wellness programs — to help keep expenses low and improve employee health.

Four of the 10 most expensive health conditions for U.S. employers are related to heart disease and stroke: high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and chest pain. Treatment for heart disease and stroke account for about $1 of every $6 spent on U.S. healthcare. Both heart disease and stroke can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risk factors for these conditions. Without appropriate intervention, these health issues will impact productivity and increase healthcare costs – for both employees and their employers. No matter the size of your business, promoting healthy practices can increase profitability and productivity. Companies that have exemplary safety, health and environmental programs outperformed the S&P by between 3–5 percent.

Take action to improve health outcomes
A workplace wellness program is an organization-wide campaign designed to support healthy behaviors, improve employee health outcomes and achieve population health goals. These programs consist of activities such as health education and coaching, weight management programs, health screenings, onsite fitness programs and more. Workplace health programs also include policies intended to facilitate employee health, including allowing time for exercise, offering healthy food options in cafeterias or vending machines, and providing financial and other incentives for participation.

The CDC’s Workplace Health Model is an easy four-step model for employers to follow to create their own workplace health program.

  1. Assess the health and safety of your organization.
  2. Plan strategies your organization has the resources to support.
  3. Implement health-focused programs and practices.
  4. Evaluate the results.

Considerations for a comprehensive wellness program


Set a goal to reduce the number of employees who are physically inactive. Using incentives, create a program to encourage employees to meet their physical fitness goals. Provide each employee with a health tracker and create competitions among teams. Hold fitness classes during work hours to encourage employees to take a break or offer reimbursement for gym memberships.
Make your worksite to a tobacco-free campus. Provide educational information on the benefits of not smoking and resources for smoking cessation programs. Offer reimbursements for patches or quit kits as an incentive.
Take your employees out for a healthy food cooking class as a team building activity. Not only will this improve team building, it will educate your employees on ways to incorporate healthy foods into their diets. Coordinate with a local food co-op to offer discounts to employees on healthy produce and meats.
Offer telework options for employees if possible. Providing this flexibility can reduce stress and boost morale.

Focus on health screenings – they help prevent at-risk employees from becoming chronically ill, connect those who are already ill with next steps in care and give organizations the information they need to work with their health plan to address underlying trends.

Provide engaging activities as part of your program and encourage employees to participate. These could include free vaccine clinics or educational seminars on improving health.

Learn how BioIQ empowers employers to create engaging wellness programs and inspire employees to improve their health.

The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.

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