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The Win-Win of Wellness in the Workplace

Even the simplest of programs offer clear benefits for companies and their employees

Health care, as an employee benefit, is one of the fastest rising and most seemingly uncontrollable costs facing employers today. In 2005, health care spending rose nearly 7%, twice the rate of inflation in this country. Employers must look for creative ways to address this problem before it spirals out of control, impacting other areas of business spending.

In any industry the health of the workforce is critical to the company's bottom line, as well as the quality of service provided to customers. Dealing proactively with health issues through wellness initiatives that promote healthy lifestyle choices is a positive approach to reducing absenteeism, work-related injuries and health-related productivity issues. It is an area with great promise for helping employers regain more control over their health-care costs.

Addressing these challenges head-on is particularly important in the trucking industry, where the physical demands of loading and unloading trailers and the stress of driving larger commercial vehicles in congested areas make compelling arguments for an employer-sponsored wellness program.

It comes down to common sense. Whether you're a quarterback headed to the Super Bowl, the supervisor of a production line or a truck driver on our nation's highways, wellness is critical for employers and employees alike. In-shape athletes are more apt to make great plays, just as healthy production crews create better products and fit truck drivers operate more safely and efficiently. It's time for companies in every industry to promote optimum health by offering wellness programs to their employees.

For more information on this topic including the National Business Group on Health Awards for 2007 click here.

Such initiatives are not merely altruistic. Effective wellness programs contribute directly to the bottom line -- of both the company and employee. Employers benefit from reduced workplace injuries and their associated costs, decreased workers' compensation expenses, lower insurance rates, reduced absenteeism and increased worker productivity. Healthier employees spend less on health care deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. In fact, an American Journal of Health Promotion article reported that wellness programs were responsible for reducing the use of sick leave by as much as 28%, the use of health care benefits by 26% and the number of workers' compensation claims and disability management by 30% on a year-over-year comparison. Wellness programs may make a positive impact on employee recruitment and retention as well, because better health improves employee morale and helps ensure a longer, more productive career and, ultimately, a stronger financial future for everyone.

Small Steps to a Successful Wellness Program

Not only are wellness programs generally well-received, they often become an effective and highly popular part of the company's overall safety program and culture. Determining what wellness initiative to introduce can seem like a daunting task, so many companies work with outside vendors to bring on-site experts like Wellness Coaches USA, which introduce and then run on-site wellness initiatives at company locations. Simply starting with a pilot program -- even at a single location with one credible, approachable expert -- is the first step to improving health and morale among employees while benefiting the company's bottom line.

With such programs in place, companies have seen astonishing results and participation levels -- a true testament to the value of their initiatives. Success, however, is dependent on how the elements are introduced and communicated to employees and on the quality of the employee/health coach relationship. Employees are more likely to participate if they are properly introduced to the program's benefits and incentives and comfortable with the on-site coach. Extending the program to the employee's family members is another way to ensure that employees are exercising healthy lifestyle choices at home and in the workplace.

Through confidential sessions with health coaches (often former athletic trainers and nurses), these programs encourage an open dialogue for employees and their families. They assess and respond to individual health risks while creating the opportunity to educate the larger employee group on topics like weight loss, stress reduction and hypertension.

These programs often introduce site-wide nutrition education, weight management or smoking cessation programs, help create athletic centers or walking trails at facilities and even lead group stretching sessions. On-staff coaches work with employees on injury prevention by teaching them specific stretches, exercises and best practices to avoid job-specific risks such as arthritis or back injuries. They also support employees with rehabilitation and training to speed effective recovery from injuries.

Employees are balancing work with their home lives, the needs of their family, friends and outside activities. For many of us, our own health often is at the bottom of the priority list. Whether it's making time to take a walk or avoiding the lure of the fast food drive-through window, managing our personal health can be a challenge. Employees appreciate the incentive provided by company-sponsored wellness programs, and in particular, the guidance an on-site coach can provide. It is a commitment that demonstrates the employer's investment in the employee's individual well-being.

When it comes to employee health in the trucking industry, physical maintenance of employees is arguably as important -- if not more so -- than properly maintaining the longevity and safe operation of equipment. While the industry has long understood the importance of regular vehicle maintenance, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in increasing the scope and adoption of formalized employee wellness efforts.

With the driver shortage expected to top 110,000 by 2014 (according to American Trucking Associations) there has never been a better time to take those steps. From the driver's seat to the loading dock, that's a surefire way to build your business and contribute to the well-being of the asset that most directly impacts success in your industry -- employees.

Robert Petrancosta is vice president, safety and environmental compliance, for Con-way Freight. Con-way Inc. is a freight transportation and logistics services company that delivers industry-leading services through its primary operating companies of Con-way Freight, CFI and Con-way Truckload, and Menlo Worldwide Logistics. These operating units provide, day-definite less-than-truckload (LTL), full truckload and intermodal freight transportation; logistics, warehousing and supply chain management services; and trailer manufacturing.

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