Workplace Wednesdays: Wellness at the office; what's the bottom line for companies?

May 30, 2012

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Updated at 11:35 on 6/6/2012

We've all had the co-worker on a diet. They pass up the birthday cake or going-away cupcakes and pop carrot sticks at lunch. Broadcasting your weight goals at the office can be a mixed bag. On one hand, you feel guilty or embarrassed when the pounds don't fall off, but on the other hand, you've got people to keep you honest in the break room when the 3 p.m. sweet craving strikes. Diets and self-improvement goals may not just be about personal reward; employers have something to gain, too (no pun intended). "Can Social Media Produce Wellness Results", an article in the June issue of Workforce, states that "in 2012, U.S. companies’ per-employee health care costs are expected to increase 5.9 percent, to $11,664." That's from a report from Towers Watson & Co. and the National Business Group on Health. The same data points to a rise of 34 percent in employee health care costs. With diseases like diabetes and heart disease stemming from excess weight, employers are looking for preventative measures to keep workers at a stable weight. Healthy workers mean lower bills for the bosses, and hopefully, happier workers.

Getting buy-in on better lifestyle choices is easier said than done. Breaking down barriers and creating better access for employees is one way companies can help staff reach those goals. The Workforce article, which is available Monday, points to companies using social media and smartphone apps to help workers stay active and lose weight. These tools help dieters track their calories and exercise, and also connect with their collegues to create a team-like environment around a shared goal of healthier living. It's similar to your cubemate keeping you honest when you reach for the cake; if you're co-workers can see on Facebook that you're veering off course, they can snap you back into shape. It's not just about weight loss, either. Staff at Chilton Hospital in New Jersey aimed to quit smoking and take stress management classes, too. Wellness experts that writer Michelle V. Rafter talked to say it's important to not concentrate on just immediate goals. To make the efforts truly worthwhile, employees need to learn-and adopt-healthy lifestyles that will stick with them.

To talk more about what companies are doing to incentivize workers, Workforce's Director of Online Strategy and former HR consultant Andrea Whitney joined Steve Edwards on Afternoon Shift. Did your company do anything to make you want to live a healthier lifestyle? Tell us below in the comments section!

This post has been updated to include the correct title of the Workforce article.

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