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By Mark Hennessey, President/CEO [markh@ineda.com]

Our health tends to be one of the first things that we let suffer—especially during busy times, like RIGHT NOW. When we’re so busy, we often fall into bad habits that persist even when the busy season passes. Whether you’re a service technician, owner, manager, parts/service employee, or general staff member, the wheels fall off the wagon very easily when it comes to personal health. Eventually, we might find ourselves overweight, stressed out, and fueled by Monster energy drinks, Mountain Dew, coffee, or all of the above.

An unhealthy life style affects not only our own individual health, but it also affects our families, coworkers, employees, and others too. Unhealthy behaviors can sneak up on all of us, and before we know it, we are spiraling downhill at a faster and faster pace, making it very difficult to slow down or stop.

It’s hard to overestimate the value of a healthy workforce. Employees who are mentally and physically well are more productive, less absent from work, and feel better about themselves, their jobs, and their employers—all of which are things that contribute to the bottom line.

But health insurance premiums and employee medical claims are at an all-time high in the United States—and they are continuing to climb. What can you, as an employer, do to help your employees manage chronic health conditions and prevent the unhealthy behaviors that contribute to them in the first place?

Health experts have seven recommendations that you can implement to help your employees become and stay healthy.

1. Ease job stress

According to the CDC, work-related stress is the leading workplace health problem and a major occupational health risk, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity. And the pandemic has only intensified this stress.

This is going to sound like a wild concept, but creating a mandatory long weekend is a great idea for your service techs or other employees who routinely put in long hours. Some service techs love to work. They love it so much, they will work themselves to exhaustion. Schedule a mandatory long weekend for them to unwind—and don’t contact them for any reason.

2. Encourage movement

According to the American Heart Association, physically active jobs now make up less than 20 percent of the United States workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960. And this “sitting disease” is taking its toll. “The effects of a sedentary lifestyle add up,” said Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pearland family medicine physician Dr. Jennifer Ukwu. “Sitting for long periods has been associated with increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart attack and stroke.” She suggests encouraging employees to take frequent breaks to move around, encouraging lunchtime walks (and discouraging employees from eating lunch at their desks), and providing access to onsite or local fitness facilities.

3. Educate employees

Many unhealthy behaviors might be prevented by simply educating employees. “Each month represents a different opportunity to educate employees on a different health topic,” Dr. Ukwu said. “February is National Heart Month, for instance, and October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. [Dealerships] can use these national campaigns as a springboard for your own internal awareness campaigns, perhaps inviting local health care providers to speak on related topics at employee events. And they can encourage their employees to team up to support local events.”

4. Encourage preventive care

Unfortunately, many people let their annual physical and health screenings lapse during the pandemic. “The first step in managing a health problem is knowing it exists in the first place,” Dr. Ukwu said. “Every employee should know their numbers, including their body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and resting heart rate, and blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It is also important to be current on health, including cancer screenings. Early detection really does save lives.”

5. Prevent injury

When was the last time your dealership conducted a safety audit and rewarded employees for identifying unsafe practices? Sometimes, we get caught up in the routine of simply doing the work and forget about the risks associated with it. Safety is always at the top of the list for our members. A safe, clean work environment is much healthier and less hazardous for employees.

6. Encourage time off

Encouraging employees to use their vacation time is not only good for them, it’s also good for your business. Vacation can reduce employee stress and minimize burnout. And rested employees are productive employees. It’s up to managers to model good behavior, too. To encourage employees to use their earned vacation time, many companies have stopped compensating departing employees for their earned time. Some are even offering financial incentives to employees to use all of their vacation time.

7. Don’t skip the small things

While employers are working hard to cost-effectively provide major health and wellness benefits to their employees, Dr. Ukwu encourages employers not to forget the smaller, but still meaningful, gestures.

“We have all been so far apart for the past two years; we long for human connection,” she said. “An impromptu lunch or a small outdoor gathering that brings employees back together can go a long way in lifting spirits and boosting employee morale.”