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Employees' health and weight problems cost U.S. business owners $153 billion each year in lost productivity costs, making it more essential than ever for managers to incentivize healthy employee habits. Over 85 percent of American workers have weight problems, health problems or both, and they miss 450 million extra days of work per year compared to their normal-weight colleagues.

Addressing this issue isn't as easy as holding a meeting and telling your staff to exercise; weight and health are touchy subjects, especially in the workplace. Consider the following strategies to tactfully incentivize healthy employee habits.

  1. Add a corporate wellness program. You don't necessarily need to comp memberships to pricey gyms; such a program could be as simple as an employer subsidy on lunchtime yoga classes.
  2. Stock healthy snacks in break rooms as an employee perk. Several startups offer regular shipments of healthy foods to offices, including Graze in the U.K. and stateside services like The FruitGuys, KIND and Lollihop.
  3. Offer incentives -- carefully. Blanket "if-then" incentives -- such as this employer's £1,000 incentive for his staff to quit smoking -- essentially bribe employees, who may not value the bribe enough to take it. Instead, use a "now that" reward, which might sound like this: "Now that you've reduced your risk of cancer by quitting smoking, here's a £1,000 gift to show the company's appreciation for your commitment."
  4. Add strong financial incentives to employee health care plans. GE employees who smoke must contribute over $600 more a year to their health care plans than their colleagues who don't smoke. To make quitting easier, GE offers a free smoking cessation program, and the company's health insurance covers smoking cessation medications.
  5. Enable guerrilla initiatives from within. Encourage voluntary weight loss pools; a study by my alma mater found that proactive, instant-gratification programs particularly resounded with study participants. Upper-level managers can create employee buy-in by endorsing and participating in these programs.

Does your workplace incentivize healthy employee habits? If so, how?

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