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January 9, 2014
Put Some Heart into Hiring the Right Employees
 
Having a healthy workforce is crucial to maintaining your company's productivity. Whether it's absenteeism (and the related cost of paid sick days), or just lost focus due to health issues, employee illness can put a serious dent in your bottom line.
 
So how can you keep your workforce healthy and productive?
 
Statistics
First, a few numbers to think over.
 
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, unhealthy employees cost businesses a whopping $153 billion a year in lost productivity. Of the 110,000 full-time employees surveyed, only one in seven (13.9% of the workforce) reported being at normal weight with no chronic health conditions.
 
More than 30% reported being overweight or obese, with one or two chronic conditions. These workers missed an average of 1.08 days per month due to poor health, compared to just .34 lost days per month reported by the healthy workers.
 
Chronic conditions considered by the study included previous heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, and recurring pain in the neck, back, knee, or leg for the past 12 months.
 
Many of the chronic conditions reported by survey respondents have lifestyle-based causes, such as obesity or smoking.
 
Hiring for Health
One way employers may choose to combat this problem is by taking a potential employee's health into consideration during the hiring process.
 
For example, in 2011, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania announced it would start performing tobacco screening on all new hires. Those who tested positive for tobacco use would be denied employment.
 
This policy might tempt some employers to use other health factors to eliminate potential employees, such as obesity. But, depending on the particular regulations in your state and non-discrimination rules (such as those under HIPAA for healthcare providers), you may be limited in what conditions you can use to rule out new hires.
 
Because of these potential legal issues, it may be safer to encourage healthy lifestyles after hire.
 
Wellness Programs
While it may not be possible to get every employee to take his or her health seriously, implementing a wellness program at work can help reduce your health-related costs. By encouraging participation in weight loss, heart health, and smoking cessation programs, you can boost your employees' health and productivity.
 
In order to start a successful wellness plan, first ask your employees what they need.
 
By conducting a survey of your workers, you can find out which sort of program would best serve the needs of your workforce as a whole. This survey can help you determine whether fitness classes, individual health assessments, or regular wellness workshops would help the most workers.
 
An incentive plan is also an important part of a successful wellness program. Providing rewards for various healthy benchmarks throughout the year will help employees stay on track.
 
Keeping your workforce healthy can save you a large chunk of money on healthcare costs, lost productivity, and sick days.
 
By encouraging a healthy lifestyle and focusing on health in the workplace, you can keep your costs down and your employees happier and more productive.

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Freelance blogger Angie Mansfield covers a variety of subjects for small business owners. From business growth to marketing to how to make a budget, her work will give you tips to keep your business running smoothly.
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