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(BPT) – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – especially for small businesses grappling with the high costs of worker absenteeism. Employee time lost to health issues costs American businesses $84 billion a year. For U.S. businesses, helping workers stay healthy costs far less than the financial impact of having them miss work for illness or injury.

With cold and flu season in full swing, HR directors and other business leaders should take steps to help employees stay healthy and on the job. Here are seven steps your small company can take to help reduce worker absenteeism:

1. Encourage healthful habits.

Simple factors such as getting enough sleep and frequent hand washing can go a long way toward keeping people healthy. While you can’t make workers get seven to eight hours of sleep, you can spread the word on how it’s done. Key tricks? Turn off the electronic devices an hour before bedtime, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and go to bed at the same time every night.

Employers can more directly encourage other healthful habits, such as hygiene. Create mini-health stations throughout the office and include hand sanitizer, fresh tissues and a covered receptacle nearby. Post signs with proper hand-washing guidelines in company restrooms. You can promote a healthy diet by providing healthful options such as trail mix and water in vending machines. Distribute healthy recipes (try the spaghetti squash!).

2. Provide 24/7 support through a wellness program.

Businesses that offer employee wellness programs like the health and wellness solutions provided by Provant can lower their medical costs and offer a spectrum of additional benefits, including reduced absenteeism. Customized workplace wellness programs give employees round-the-clock access to valuable information, health professionals and advice, live or via technology, that can help them stay healthy. Plus, these programs can help employees manage diseases, assess their health and set personal wellness goals.

3. Reward well-being actions.

Sometimes inertia is all that stands between employees and improved health. You can inspire employees to be healthier by offering, say, an exercise class at lunch. Provant health incentive programs such as reimbursement for gym memberships, health challenges for most miles walked in a month, insurance premium reimbursements, or rewards points (good for merchandise) for healthful habits have seen marked increases in engagement and significant health risk migration for those rewarded for their healthy choices.

4. De-stress the workplace

Stress is part of having a job, but you can help workers stay healthy and be more productive by helping them manage that stress. Give them chances to get up from their desk – how about making that next meeting a walking one? Offer a workshop on relaxation techniques, and make sure your health plan offers an Employee Assistance Program for mental health help. Have a de-stress zone in the office.

5. Provide auxiliary benefits.

Auxiliary benefits such as dental or vision coverage support employees’ overall health maintenance and value-adds such as partnerships with local farms for vegetables, dry-cleaning drop-off service, and onsite fitness classes create a convenience factor that encourages healthy engagement. In addition to supporting employee health, they are a low-cost way to round out a benefits package without increasing monthly premium costs.

6. Tell them to stay home.

Despite their best efforts, employees will get sick. When that happens, it may be best to encourage them to stay home. Workers suffering with a virus like the flu or a bad cold could spread the illness throughout the office if they come to work when sick. And those with non-communicable illness or injuries may extend the total amount of time they miss from work if they push themselves to return too soon or don’t take the time they need to make a full recovery.

7. The obvious – Get a flu shot.

Sometimes the answer is right under your nose. Make it easy to get flu shots. You can even bring nurses right to your workplace or offer a remote flu program, making it convenient for individuals to get vaccinated.

To learn more about wellness programs that can help reduce employee absenteeism, visit

Author: Andy Quayle

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