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Easy, low-cost ways to keep employees healthier

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Let’s be honest, there is only so much an ergonomically friendly office chair can do to promote health.

As companies grapple with ever-increasing health-care premiums, the need to keep employees happy and healthy can be enough to give a manager high blood pressure. A large company is more likely to have the resources to bring in a hotshot wellness consulting company.

But there are simple, low-cost and stress-free ways a small company can help keep its workers healthier.

It can be as practical as casting off the candy vending machine or as creative as a joke of the day. So lighten up, because laughing, experts say, is incredibly healthy.

Businesses also can encourage employees to ride a bike to work by setting aside adequate bike rack or locker space, says Tammy Kepple, with Kaiser Permanente Northwest. She helps small businesses find practical ways to keep their employees fit. It’s part of what Kepple describes as the importance of environmental design and workplace health.

Kepple also suggests “walking meetings,” where employees walk and conduct business at the same time instead of sitting on their rumps at a table. So go ahead; feel giddy while burning those calories during work.

“The thinking is changing now,” says Kepple. “A supportive environment is important to employees.”

No matter how good the idea, though, it will not catch hold with employees unless supervisors also participate because workers fear looking like slackers in front of their boss, says Tanya Barham, CEO of Recess, a Portland-based workplace wellness consulting firm.

“There is no silver bullet,” says Barham. “But it must be easy and convenient.”

Recess created an office competition for law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey challenging workers to trek the building stairway instead of lazily using the elevator. Attorneys square off against staff, and those who use the stairs more often win. Of course, the winning team also gets bragging rights.

“It has absolutely been a hit,” says Mike Moreland, human resources director at the Portland law firm. “It’s fun and easy to measure.”



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