How Fostering Healthy Workplace Habits Can Improve Employee Wellness and Retention

by Dr. Tara Ostrom

I see it all the time, far too often. As patients bring in their bottles of medication as part of their annual wellness visits, bottles and bottles of medications fill up my counter, and I can’t help but think that some of this is preventable. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that the Medicare eligible population is disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, with 85 percent having at least one chronic condition and nearly 60 percent having two or more. Many chronic diseases that require medication are caused or worsened by unhealthy lifestyle choices. With a third of our life being spent at work, it’s important for employers to encourage healthy habits in the workplace, which can help improve the satisfaction and retention of employees of all age groups. In fact, a survey from the American Psychological Association found that employees who felt their employers did not support their wellbeing were 51 percent more likely to leave their job within the next year.

Below are a few ways you, as an employer, can support your employees’ wellbeing now and help improve their job satisfaction and prevent chronic illnesses or diseases in the future.

  • Design Stress Management and Wellness Programs. There is a direct correlation between stress and health complications. Implementing a stress management and wellness program will teach your employees how to properly handle stress, how to live healthier lives, and help them lower their risk of heart disease, stroke and other health conditions.
  • Offer an Employee Assistance Program. A 2016 study showed a 21 percent improvement in life satisfaction after the implementation of an EAP. An EAP coordinator can help your employee discuss depression, stress and anxiety issues, help improve their relationships at work and at home, work together to resolve emotional issues or grief, and so much more at no cost to your employee, which creates more satisfied and engaged employees.
  • Be Mindful of Mental Health. Right now, as a result of COVID-19, half of the patients I see are experiencing varying degrees of mental health issues. Be mindful of your employees’ mental health and promote programs that address them. Educate yourself to look out for signs of depression, anxiety and burnout and encourage mental health breaks to help prevent a mental health crisis.
  • Encourage Employees to Take Time for Preventative Care. I know that prevention works; early detection of potentially serious or chronic diseases means not having to mitigate them in retirement. Encourage your employees to get vaccinated, get their annual wellness visit and make preventative care a priority. Create an environment where employees don’t feel bad or are judged for taking time for ‘preventative care’.
  • Reframe Happy Hour. Happy Hour isn’t as happy when you find out excessive alcohol use over time can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and more. Instead of planning a weekly ‘Happy Hour’ plan a weekly ‘Wellness Hour’ that includes activities like meditation, a walk, or even yoga. Encourage your employees to create healthy coping and decompression techniques that will benefit their overall health.

By advocating for better overall health, wellbeing and preventative care practices in the workplace, employers will see employees who are physically and mentally healthier, more likely to be productive while they are working, more likely to stay with your company and more likely to live a long, healthy life before and after they leave the workforce.

Dr. Tara Ostrom is an expert in internal medicine for Optum Primary Care.

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