This month, on Sept. 25, you can see local business leaders—like State College of Florida president Lars Hafner—walking in downtown Sarasota’s Payne Park. They’re walking for the American Heart Association’s Start! Heart Walk, which is raising funds for health education and research and aiming to get more local businesses talking about healthy, active lifestyles—even at work.
Hafner, the volunteer chair of this year’s local walk, says SCF offers cash toward insurance premiums and retirement accounts, and gift cards to employees and students if they earn wellness points. The college has won national recognition in Forbes as a healthy workplace. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of administrators leading by example,” he adds. “Don’t just send a brochure encouraging people to exercise; get out and walk with them.”
But can small business owners really afford the time and resources to promote healthy habits? Perhaps a better question, according to Dr. Tim Church, chair of the American Heart Association’s Physical Activity Committee, would be: Can you afford not to?
“Healthcare costs are really cutting into the bottom line,” says Church, “particularly for small businesses where every employee is integral.” Instead of building gyms and focusing on services for healthy employees, Church says, employers should be focusing on the behaviors that are contributing to healthcare costs, such as smoking and diabetes. Employer healthcare costs for diabetics can reach $12,000 per year, compared to the $4,000 national average for a healthy employee. “And smokers are ticking time bombs,” he says.
Companies need to develop wellness strategies for employees whose lifestyles are liabilities, such as encouraging screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol. Even with skyrocketing healthcare costs, medication for many common issues is more affordable than ever, says Church, so making screenings and basic treatment a priority now will pay off down the road.
Asking employees to change their habits means businesses will need to think about how to accommodate them. If an employee says he never has time for the gym, offer an extra half hour at lunch. Look for ways you can create time to promote and reward healthy activity. And remember that it starts at the top. Bosses need to “lead by example,” showing that physical activity is important.
5 steps toward healthier employees.
Phone interventions Connect employees to a health professional through a phone session that targets specific behaviors such as smoking. Church says an hour on the phone (he recommends TrestleTree, Inc.) can make a world of difference, and it is much more affordable than bringing the experts into your office.
Corporate challenges Try setting a goal for your entire office—like counting a million steps by the end of the year. If you reach the goal, reward your employees with a healthy party to celebrate the New Year.
Walk with the CEO Kill two birds with one stone: At least once a week, set up a time for a walk-and-talk with one of your employees. They get to share ideas with the boss, and you get to promote active lifestyles.
Stairwell surprise If your office is on an upper floor, encourage employees to skip the elevator. Announce occasional rewards hidden in the stairwells, like coupons for a restaurant (healthy menus only, of course) or a weekend kayaking trip.
Start! Heart Walk Get your office onboard for the American Heart Association’s signature nationwide walking event, designed to increase awareness of healthy activity and raise money for research and education. The AHA encourages companies to participate as a team. The local walk starts at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 25 at Payne Park, 2000 Adams Lane, in downtown Sarasota; you can sign up at sarasotamanateeheartwalk.org. For more information, contact Dana Soldati, (239) 495-4902, or [email protected]