8 Creative Ways to Keep Your Staff Healthy

Last Updated Feb 17, 2011 3:26 PM EST

If you're Google or Facebook, you can give your staff fancy gyms, personal trainers, and boatloads of healthy free food to help them get -- or stay -- fit. The average small business? Not so much.

But even if a fleet of treadmills and an organic chef aren't in your budget, you can and should encourage employees to take their health seriously. Sure, there are cost benefits if your team stays productive more days each year, but there are also benefits to getting everyone together to work on a shared goal. Here are eight ways to create a healthier office.

1. Sweat together
The staff at feefighters.com, a Chicago-based comparison shopping site for credit card processing fees, plays exercise videos in the office and gets everyone to work out together. They even Skype in a colleague in Bulgaria to do it with them. "It's hilarious," says Sheel Mohnot, the company's "business development and partnership ninja." (See the picture above, or the video, to judge for yourself.) Not only that, it also helps with team building. "It's one of the things that we truly get to do together, as a whole group," he says.

2. Help your staff kick bad habits
As a small company, headsets.com didn't have a ton of money to spend to promote a healthy lifestyle. So they focused on small initiatives that could have a bigger impact, like offering free nicotine patches to team members who want to quit smoking, installing software on employee computers to remind them to stretch during the day, and starting a weight loss program using a free iPhone app called LoseIt! The app worked so well that just four employees lost a collective 125 pounds. "I highly recommend it," says Marketing Manager Phil Sharp.

3. Have a potluck
The Center for Financial Planning's "Souper Thursdays" program actually earned the Southfield, MI-based company the American Heart Association's Workplace Innovation Award in 2010. Twice a month during the winter, two team members pair up to make soup for the whole group, and the company collects donations to raise money for charity. Figuring out whose turn it is to cook leads to playful office banter, and the meal promotes "increased interaction, camaraderie and last but not least, a healthy lunch," says Financial Planner Laurie Renchik.

The meal is one piece of the company's health and wellness plan, which costs the firm a total of less than $1000 per year. They switched their insurance to a health plan that offers reduced premiums in exchange for a commitment to proactive health screenings. In the warmer months, they have "Tuesday Tennies," when employees can bring their sneakers and head outside for a 20-minute walk. They also participate in the AMA Start! Heart Walk, where they divide the 20-person office into two teams of ten, and keep track of walking, exercising, and other healthy activities for 100 days. At the end, the losing team buys the winning team a healthy lunch.

4. Try a cheap mood booster
Hirease, a Southern Pines, S.C.-based employment screening services company, buys its employees fresh flowers for their desks every month. It may sound expensive, but cheap bud vases from a craft store and a bouquet or two of flowers from the grocery store really doesn't cost much. "This is the easiest and cheapest bonus that I believe really impacts staff," says company President Heidi Dent. (This time of year, she also recommends potted African Violets from your local home improvement store, which cost about $3.)
5. Provide secure bike parking
Lots of companies encourage their employees to bike to work, but who's going to bring an expensive bike if there's no place to lock it up? Boulder-based Quick Left, a Web-development company, makes room for bicycle parking inside the building, "allowing our employees to ride their bikes to work without any fear of weather or thieves damaging their bicycles," says Tara Anderson, vice president of communications.

6. Lose weight for charity
Fort Collins, CO-based Otterbox, which makes cases for electronics, has an on-campus "lifestyle challenge" to help employees lose weight, but is also encouraging employees to join the company team in "The Biggest Loser" Pound for Pound Challenge. The contest is free, and for every pound lost by the team, NBC will donate a pound of groceries to local food banks. If you're already at a healthy weight, you can pledge to maintain it, and they'll donate five pounds of food on your behalf. It's a great way to help your team and the community at the same time.

7. Subsidize an Ironman
In Miami, the Max Borges Agency will pay up to $100 of team members' entry fees for races -- from local 5Ks to Ironman Triathalons. Not everyone is ready to get in on the action, but "I think the encouragement gets a few people going, and others are motivated by seeing that," CEO Max Borges says.

8. Walk while you work
The staff of imo instant messenger, a 15-person startup in Silicon Valley made up of mostly engineers, makes a point to get away from their computers and play tennis and basketball together, and hike after work hours to help with team building. But for those days when they can't, the company has two walking desks that allow employees to work at their computers and walk on a treadmill at the same time. Each machine is costly -- about $5,000, but it's a one-time investment, and "when you break down the cost of two machines for 15 employees overt ime, the cost per use is actually very low," says PR and marketing specialist Brandi Kolmer.

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  • Elise Craig

    Elise Craig has written for BusinessWeek, MarketWatch and washingtonpost.com. She is an alumna of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Georgetown University, and a huge fan of Hoya basketball.

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