For several years now, companies of all sizes have been increasing their investment in employee health through a range of workplace wellness programs. As it turns out, they aren’t doing so just to save on health care costs.

A culture of health

According to a new survey, more than 90 percent of surveyed business leaders said they believe health has at least a significant influence on workplace productivity and performance. Additionally, 41 percent of business leaders said health has a significant influence on employee engagement with their work, which is a key contributor to broader business results.

"To foster a healthy culture, management needs to encourage employees to make healthy choices, whether that’s taking stretch or exercise breaks or simply making time for lunch and mental health breaks."

What does that mean for well-meaning business owners? For starters, leadership at all levels of a company must understand the business case for their company to create and sustain a culture of health. This looks different for every business, depending on company size and the nature of the business.

More than incentive

Business leaders can support employee health and improve program participation by striving to offer a comprehensive workplace wellness program that supports employees at all levels of the company and that is anchored by a supportive culture. And it’s important for employers to understand that a comprehensive program is much more than an incentive; it’s about policies, day-to-day practices, workplace norms and offering behavior change activities that appeal to and are accessible to all employees.

In addition, all levels of management should understand and participate in the company’s wellness program. If a direct supervisor doesn’t participate in the program, and can’t explain it, chances are employees won’t participate either. One way to get all management levels on board is to make sure the company’s wellness program aligns with the organization’s core business strategy. Most business leaders (57 percent) in the aforementioned survey said their organization’s leaders viewed health as an investment in human capital or as part of the organization’s core business strategy.

To foster a healthy culture, management at all levels need to encourage and allow employees to make healthy choices, whether that’s taking stretch or exercise breaks or simply making time for lunch and mental health breaks away from their desk or work station. A company’s executive leaders can believe in the importance of good health as it relates to performance on and off the job, but if the front-line managers don’t share this belief or if the work environment isn’t supportive of healthy behaviors, companies will fail to see the results and long-term benefits they seek.