Husson conference offers businesses tips for employee health
BANGOR, Maine — Small businesses may or may not be able to offer their employees health insurance, but advocates for workplace wellness programs say even modest incentives to choose healthful lifestyles can pay off for workers and employers alike.
“If you have a quality wellness program in place, it will benefit you,” said Jamie Laliberte of the Bangor-based Wellness Council of Maine, taking a short break Tuesday between presentations at a wellness symposium for small businesses. Among those benefits are improved employee morale, fewer days lost to illness, lower staff turnover and increased productivity, she said.
About 40 small-business owners, managers and others interested in workplace wellness turned out at the event, which took place at Husson University, to explore free and low-cost approaches to boosting employee health. They heard from an exercise specialist at Eastern Maine Medical Center; a business owner whose estab-lished wellness program has paid off for the company’s bottom line; and a public health leader who harnessed the energy of a community to improve the health of the local work force, among others.
Bill Primmerman of the Greater Somerset Public Health Collaborative said even the smallest companies can enhance employee health with an inexpensive five-step approach that:
- Improves the safety of the work environment.
- Discourages smoking and other unhealthy behaviors.
- Communicates simple wellness messages through posters and paycheck stuffers.
- Provides on-site self-care programs in weight management and other topics.
- Encourages health screenings and wellness profiles.
Primmerman described a communitywide effort to improve the health of the local work force in the town of Jackman. In addition to encouraging a variety of small-worksite incentives, the yearlong program included a commitment from a local convenience store to sell fresh fruits and vegetables as well as pizza and hot dogs, a local “biggest loser” contest, and a series of public suppers featuring healthier food options. While he did not present long-term data on the effectiveness of the campaign, Primmerman said the project stimulated communitywide interest in improving worker health.
For Ken Kimball, a partner at Links Website Design and Online Marketing in Bangor, the symposium generated a few simple ideas he hopes to implement for his own company, which employs just nine people. Before opening his own business in 2007, Kimball was employed by Moss Inc. in Belfast, which manufactures indus-trial display products.
At the time he worked there, Moss offered employees a range of health benefits, he said, including comprehensive health insurance, an on-site workout room with free personal training services, weekly on-site massages and a smoking cessation program.
“This was back in 1997, long before workplace wellness was fashionable,” he said.
While Links lacks the resources to offer such luxuries, Kimball said he hopes to implement regular stretching breaks and a daily 15-minute walk for his employees, who spend their days tethered to their computers. To encourage participation, he said, employees who take part will be eligible for a weekly drawing for a $10 gift card.
For more information on workplace wellness strategies for small employers, visit www.wellnesscouncilofmaine.org or call 947-0307.