NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Small businesses are among the most concerned with rising healthcare costs and the increased financial responsibility they will have to shoulder for employees under Obamacare.
"Employers are at a point now where most of them will almost do anything to reduce healthcare costs because it's such a huge part of their overall costs," said Darryl Price, a healthcare industry leader at Slalom Seattle, a business technology consulting firm with a substantial healthcare practice.
That doesn't mean that small business owners are against the Affordable Care Act, but rather that they are simply looking ways to temper their spending.
"Contrary to the chaos in the media, everybody in the healthcare industry knows what needs to happen," said Price. "You need to get people to see doctors, participate in primary care and practice preventive medicine . . . Because of the structure in place over the last 40 years or so, people have disengaged from healthcare decisions since employers paid for the costs. People felt like they didn't have to get ahead of illnesses, could wait and receive treatment only when the problems became urgent or crucial."
Of course, it's in employers' benefit to help their employees avoid sinking into such a dire state (admittedly, it's in the patient's interest, too). From the point of view of an employer, there's a very direct link between having healthy employees and saving money on their healthcare. "A corporation that gives out healthcare has a tremendous incentive to have healthy employees," said Jordan Fladell, Executive Vice President of mLevel, a casual learning platform geared toward managing outcomes and a division of Slalom.
That's why many employers are turning to health incentives within their own offices, from subsidizing gym memberships to sponsoring competitions to encourage employees to get fit. These initiatives can make a big difference for a company's bottom line while helping employees get healthy: "Even if you don't directly make money [from these initiatives], you're making money," said Fladell.
Here are some creative, and even fun, ways that employers and small business owners can encourage employees to be their healthiest selves:
Make It a Competition
Good health can take lots of forms, but one of the biggest risk factors for disease is obesity. Weight loss is also one of the easiest health activities to turn into a competitive office sport. If you feel awkward running a weight loss challenge, specifically, you can run a "fitness challenge" by using pedometers to see who walks the most steps, or a "nutrition challenge" to see who can eat fruits or vegetables with every meal.
Tips to running a successful health challenge:
- 1. Participate: If the boss passes down an edict to encourage employees to compete in a fitness challenge, it feels a little hypocritical if he himself doesn't participate.
- 2. Track percentages rather than numbers: One of the most awkward propositions in a weight loss challenge is for employees to disclose their weight. That's just never a good idea. If you do decide to run a competition to see who can lose the most weight, limit the reporting to percentages. At any rate, this levels the playing field for people of different sizes.
- 3. Keep it all in good fun: Running a fitness challenge shouldn't be about shaming or pressuring certain people at work. In all your communications, make sure to keep the tone light and fun.
Although it may feel extravagant to pay for prizes in something as ancillary to your business as a health challenge, it's really just a question of cost-benefit. If you stand to save significantly on your health insurance costs by promoting better wellness, then the cost of an Xbox, say, or some other prize might be well worth the cost if it provides an incentive for your employees to participate.
Strictly speaking, incentives can be more direct than prizes in a competition. One survey cited by the New York Times found that 79% of companies offer employees rewards to improve their health, such as reduced insurance premiums. For example, you might encourage smokers to quit by offering financial incentives to do so: if they manage to quit smoking, you'll benefit by saving on the increased costs of healthcare for smokers. They'll benefit from reduced premiums and, you know, the health perks of quitting the habit.
Use Tech to the Fullest
That might mean encouraging your employees to use free smartphone apps to promote wellness or possibly even subsidizing tech tools that encourage them to get healthy. Here are some popular tech tools to help you, and them, get healthy:
- Fitbit: Though a little pricy, this tool tracks everything from exercise to food to sleep patterns, in an easy-to-digest online format, complete with a leaderboard to provide motivation and competition.
- Nike+: Another techy way to track movement and exercise, including how often and how intensely you move around on a regular basis.
- HEALTHeME: This service can text you with tips and reminders to help you stay healthy and avoid unhealthy temptations.
- MapMyFitness: This app tracks your workouts and helps users stay on track.
- Xbox or Zumba fitness games: Xbox offers a workout game called Your Shape Fitness Evolved, and so does Zumba, so you can have your favorite exercise class at home.
- Apps to quit smoking: There's a ton out there to curb a smoking habit. Healthline has rounded up 11 great options.
—Written by Allison Kade for MainStreet