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Wellness Programs Can Fit Workplaces of Any Size

As May marks Employee Health and Fitness Month, it can be easy for small to midsize businesses to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of beginning a wellness program.  Lack of time, resources, or funds can all be perceived barriers to putting together a program.  According to TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, workplace wellness makes sense whether a company has 20 or 20,000 employees. 

“Businesses of all sizes can benefit from a healthy workforce,” says Maggie Lehnert, TOPS wellness coordinator liaison.  “Implementing just a few wellness initiatives, like an on-site TOPS chapter, can make a great impact.”

The nation’s growing level of obesity is responsible for nearly 40 million lost workdays, 239 million restricted-activity days, and 63 million doctors’ visits by employees annually, says the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, of which TOPS is a partner.  In fact, the economic cost of obesity has doubled over the past 10 years–four times the rate of inflation.

But as many employers know, workplace wellness programs have been shown to reduce healthcare costs, rates of injuries and illness and employee absenteeism.  A recent study by the University of Michigan revealed that healthcare costs for a “low-risk employee” are three times lower than that of a “high-risk employee,” while the American Institute of Preventive Medicine reports that companies implementing wellness activities can save $3.48 to $5.42 for every dollar spent.

“Workplace wellness programs are beneficial in ways that are less quantifiable, but just as important,” Lehnert says.  “Improved morale, lowered stress levels, increased job satisfaction and employees who quite simply feel healthier and happier are all outcomes of implementing wellness initiatives.”

Consider the following points to initiate an employee wellness program, no matter the company size.

1. Get buy-in from management.  Research has shown that wellness programs are more successful when senior leadership is committed.  A study conducted by the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization in collaboration with Mercer Inc. found that organizations with a very supportive leadership and culture of health were 10 times as likely to report that their wellness programs have had a substantial positive impact on their healthcare costs.

2. Form a wellness committee and develop a plan by evaluating employees’ needs, as well as interests.  Designate a company wellness leader and plan initiatives with guidance from healthcare professionals.

3. Select programs that fit with the company’s unique culture.  TOPS offers a structured yet flexible, convenient, and affordable weight-management component to employee wellness programs in the form of on-site weight-loss support chapters that meet weekly.  TOPS chapters can be tailored to fit a business’ corporate culture, providing education, accountability and support for a healthful lifestyle.  Annual membership fees are $26 per employee in the U.S. and $30 per employee in Canada.  TOPS’ Wellness Toolkits also are available, which include TOPS’ “quick-start” guide, “My Day One,” TOPS’ lifestyle guide and workbook “The Choice Is Mine,” achievement logs, a food diary, resistance bands and more.

4. Implement additional wellness initiatives.  Provide opportunities for simple health screenings, distribute a quarterly company health newsletter, and encourage lunchtime walking programs.  There’s no need to build an expensive fitness center; provide employees with pedometers.  Most importantly, provide an environment that encourages wellness, perhaps through clear walking paths, signage encouraging healthful eating habits, or by implementing a tobacco-free workplace.

5. Create incentives; celebrate and reward success.  Encourage employee participation by partially or fully reimbursing any associated costs, like the TOPS’ nominal annual membership fee.  Employers also can purchase membership coupons–good for a one-year membership in TOPS–for employees to join local chapters in their community.  Consider creating annual fitness challenges and reward the “biggest losers” with cash incentives.  Awards are also a great way to recognize employees who have achieved and maintained their weight loss. 

6. Don’t expect behavior change immediately.  Successful change occurs gradually.  Workplace wellness programs are a long-term investment in the future–a marathon, not a sprint.  It can take up to three years for wellness initiatives to affect the bottom line.

To learn more about how TOPS can work with your business’ efforts to promote wellness in the workplace, contact Maggie Lehnert, TOPS wellness coordinator liaison, at 414-482-4620, extension 23, or at

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