09/13/2013 10:47 am ET Updated Nov 13, 2013

Bringing Wellness into the Workplace

It can be argued that employee wellness is the ultimate test of a sustainable business owner.
Sustainable has drifted into murky buzzword waters, but its core principles - Community, Cause and Coin -- should be ingrained in our long term growth.

Will we be forced to sacrifice one of these core principles to meet the demands of employee healthcare, a subject overwhelmingly fraught with debate, confusion and fear? For me and other sustainable entrepreneurs, the answer must be an uncompromising no. This is our moment to walk the talk.

As green business owners we actively support our communities through our employment practices, volunteer efforts and staff development programs. These efforts support our bottom line objectives - the "coin" - but even more importantly they fuel our passions for community and cause. The large-scale changes that occur as a result of our combined efforts are the reason we've earned the title, "sustainable entrepreneurs." It's the reason we can't turn away from an issue as divisive and important as employee wellness.

It is our responsibility to take ownership for the physical health of our staff by implementing some type of wellness program. Whether your budget is large or small, these and other wellness programs will help keep good health top-of-mind in your workplace.

Health starts at an intimate level, with diet. A diet high in sugary foods is the #1 cause of diabetes, cancer, and other tragic diseases including depression, but do your employees understand the value of good nutrition? Underserved communities don't always have access to nutritional facts and up-to-date dietary information. Collaborating with a local nutritionist or chef in your neighborhood to teach them the facts about nutrition is a great way to demonstrate how important your employee's well-being is to your business. If hands-on business owners encourage employees to eat well by offering incentives such as bonuses, time off, nutrition counseling or free snacks to those who choose healthy options, living well will take on a higher priority.

In addition to eating well, your staff should be encouraged to think of prevention as their first defense against illness. Bringing in a mobile vaccination clinic for your employees is a great way to show your staff that you care about their health. If you don't have the budget to bring the vaccines to the office, take your office to the vaccine. Arrange for staff to visit the vaccination office during a pre-set time period or offer to buy lunch for staffers that show proof of vaccinations.

Vaccines will go far toward keeping your staff feeling well, but make sure they're comfortable taking a sick day when they need it. Although it might seem counterintuitive, when you encourage staff to stay home when they're suffering from a cold or the flu, your business will be less like a disease incubator and more of a wellness workplace. Employees that don't feel able to take a sick day bring in contagious disease and make others sick too. This affects small businesses even more than large corporations because we can't afford the decrease in productivity that an office-wide outbreak can cause.

Total wellness in body and mind encompasses a complete lifestyle change. Help your employees make that mental adjustment through tangible demonstrations of support. Consider making a small investment to sponsor gym memberships for key staff - or all employees if possible. Motivating employees to visit the gym is a smart and proactive way to encourage workers to make an investment in their own health. Most local gym owners would appreciate the opportunity to be a bigger part of the community by teaming up with you to offer discounted memberships. After all, gyms need members and you need a healthy staff. Not only will you be encouraging your employees to put the time into a healthy lifestyle, but you'll be supporting other businesses in your community; a win-win for everyone. Countless studies prove that there is a connection between health and mental well-being and an active lifestyle with an emphasis on reducing stress.

Two other proven methods for stress reduction are yoga and meditation, both of which are popular ways to improve total physical and mental health. Tap into this cost-effective wellness trend and turn an underused conference room or empty office into a space for employees to practice. Consider hiring a yoga instructor to lead a class in the mornings or at lunch for your employees. Encourage staff to take a few moments to meditate in the late afternoon instead of reaching for a candy bar as a pick me up.

And, of course, make time to join your staff in the yoga room, at the gym or in the break room with an apple. As business owners, we've seen time and time again that the best way to lead is through example.

When we make employee wellness a sustainable challenge rather than a potential assault against our bottom line, it becomes an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to green business practices. The result? Increased productivity, happier employees and savings on traditional health care services. And isn't that a beautiful demonstration of the synergy that can be achieved when we combine our focus on community, cause and coin. Your employees will agree.

Learn 6 ways to start a wellness program!

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.