Want your middle market company employees to be healthier and more productive?

Part of the answer involves promoting employee health and well-being, which can also help control (and even reduce) your company’s healthcare-related costs. You should be working with your health insurance provider and HR department to think through, develop, and implement workplace health programs, as well as to build an organizational culture that supports employee health.

Here are 6 important considerations:

1. Wellness is good for leaders, employees, and companies.

Leaders should lead on health by focusing on themselves first, modelling good health practices for the entire organization. The instructions from airline flight attendants before takeoff are exactly right—you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help anyone else. The best leaders, the ones who get the most from themselves and their employees, maintain energy, resilience, and model good health. In order to promote wellness among employees, leaders must adopt and practice good health practices themselves. Don’t just talk about physical activity and nutritional eating for your employees, but model these behaviors yourself. Walk the talk on health.

2. Focus on health as a productivity enabler, while rejecting “results at any cost.”

Work is often inherently stressful, and workers need to recharge, especially after sustained effort. A company culture that demands results “at any cost,” that regularly pushes employees beyond their limits, is not a workplace that supports either productivity or human health. Results always have a cost, and achieving good business results in the short-term at the high cost of sacrificing employee health may be a terrible outcome.

As a Harvard Business Review article, Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure, explains it, demanding that employees "tough it out" isn’t sustainable. Toughing it out actually takes a heavy, lasting toll on the human body and mind (as well as company cultures and related healthcare costs) that can result in skyrocketing employee sick days and widespread burnout. Preventive care is essential, and you should strongly encourage employees to focus on it.

"The more imbalanced we become due to overworking, the more value there is in activities that allow us to return to a state of balance,” explains the HBR article. “The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us." If you must demand more work of employees for a period of time, be sure to limit the occasions and allow for sufficient employee recovery time afterwards. Think of organizational and employee resilience as an elastic band: if you keep on stretching it, it snaps.

3. Support good nutrition by offering healthy food choices.

Middle market leaders and employees typically face so many challenging deeply-human tasks that the role can drain the body and mind of energy. When energy flags, people can quickly lose their capacity to focus, will make unwise decisions and lash out at others. Low-energy people become irritable, unable to listen with an open mind. This can lead to mental mistakes such as hasty decision-making or emotional outbursts that add new problems to already-existing business problems.

Nutrition and productivity are interconnected. A study by Brigham Young University of about 20,000 employees found that those with "unhealthy diets," who rarely ate fruits and vegetables, were 93 percent more likely to have a higher loss in productivity than employees who ate healthier diets with more fruits and vegetables. When you lose energy and cognitive capacity, it becomes easier to default to junk food, which is a productivity killer. You need energy to manage yourself and others, and making good nutritional choices can help provide it.

Middle market companies should be supporting better nutrition in all the places where food is offered and consumed, including cafeterias, break rooms, snack areas, and vending machines. Audit what food is available and consumed, and do what you can to add/offer more fruits and vegetables that sustain employee energy rather than “rollercoaster” foods like candy and snack cakes that sap it.

4. Promote stress-reducing breaks and physical activity during the workday.

Being productive means having the ability to restore yourself from everyday workplace stressors such as heavy workloads, deadlines, and "difficult" human interactions. As an organization and an individual, you should experiment with different ways to de-stress and restore during the work day. Every employee (and leader) is different: some prefer to exercise at lunch, or meditate, or engage in other forms of mindfulness. Find out what activities your employees turn to in order to restore/de-stress, and then find ways to incentivize those activities.

You might set up walking groups at lunch or weekly exercise classes, for example, or designate some space for an on-site gym or quiet room. Why not offer a monthly prize for the employee who takes the most steps? Ask employees how they re-charge and/or stay active, and then make investments in those activities. Often, very little investment is required.

5. Focus on ergonomics.

By setting up your middle market workplace in a way that reduces mental and physical strain, you can help support the productivity and health of employees, according to research. Being sedentary all day is not a good way to maintain focus, energy, and health. A TechRepublic article argues that "sitting is the new smoking," a bad habit that creates a number of health problems from bad backs to anxiety. Researchers recommend two to four hours per day of varied movements, such as standing, walking, and other activities.

We've all heard of convertible, standing desks which can promote productivity-boosting movement and keep backs and shoulders from tensing up. Even if you decide against offering employees standing desks, it's a good idea to encourage employees to stand up every few hours to stretch their muscles.You might consider implementing walking or standing meetings, for instance, when only a few people are involved.

6. Watch the healthy impacts ripple. 

When you begin following the healthy practices described above, you support good health throughout your middle market company and build a company culture that supports health. You can, of course, formalize these healthy practices through workplace programs, such as monthly nutrition workshops, healthier food options in the break room, or setting up a lunchtime walking or exercise group, but you can also offer support informally. Again, work with your HR department and health insurance provider to define what works best for your middle market company. The end results are two-fold: first, more productive employees; second, reduced healthcare costs as you and your people co-create a culture of workplace health.