The Affordable Care Act has not only brought profound changes to health insurance laws, but it’s also sharpened our focus on the financial benefits of healthy living.

With more plans shifting toward high deductibles, the financial risk for employees — as well as the financial burden for employers — is growing steadily. More people are beginning to understand that making better choices regarding diet, exercise, and overall wellness can reduce out-of-pocket medical costs.

Most employers already realize that the health and well-being of their employees has a huge effect on the day-to-day operations and overall success of the company. Those who make health an even higher priority and strive to create a workplace culture that values healthy choices, lifestyles, and goals will reap significant benefits in the long run.

The Impact of Employee Health on the Workplace

Investing in the health of employees can reduce the costs associated with insurance and sick leave.

Insurance premiums for families on employer-sponsored health plans increased by 131 percent in the decade before the ACA was enacted in 2010, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report. The same study found that employers contribute 20 percent more toward employees’ health insurance today than they did five years ago.

If the out-of-pocket health insurance costs aren’t enough motivation to pay attention to your employees’ health, there are several other benefits you should consider.

Fewer absences: Healthier employees need fewer sick days. That translates to fewer days someone’s job isn’t getting done or fewer days an employer has to hire a temp to fill in.

Increased productivity: More hands on deck means more work is getting done. Healthier employees are more focused and better able to fulfill their duties.

Increased morale: Employees who feel better feel happier. And employees often see a workplace health program as a reflection of how much the company cares about its employees, which can boost job satisfaction.

Enhanced corporate image: Employees are often a public reflection of a company, so healthier employees can greatly benefit a company’s public image. Businesses can also gain valuable publicity through competing as a team in various extramural sports or charity functions.

Improved employee recruitment and retention: Improving employee health can significantly reduce staff turnover. Additionally, a workplace health program can be an important part of an employee benefits package that both attracts new recruits and helps to retain current employees.

A healthier bottom line: Healthier employees mean businesses will spend less on direct medical costs, worker compensation, and disability costs. And all members on a group insurance plan will benefit from lower premiums when employees make fewer doctor visits or need fewer health interventions.

Tips for Creating a Healthier Workplace

There are many approaches employers can take to create a health-conscious culture. A workplace health program is not one-size-fits-all, so it’s wise to examine different programs and incentives that could be suitable for your company and employees. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Adopt a turnkey wellness program: Get your office started on a pre-planned health program; it’s a great way to dive right into your health-conscious initiatives. Many programs offer mobile apps that help with employee adherence and teach employers different ways to inspire and reward employees.

Develop an incentive program: Competitions and rewards are valuable tools to engage employees in health activities. Encourage employees to set health goals, and once those goals are met, reward them with appealing (but health-conscious) prizes.

Make getting fit a social activity: Encouraging co-workers to exercise together can make the process easier and more enjoyable. Employers can start lunchtime walking groups, sponsor after-work exercise classes, or initiate team competitions that drive progress.

Encourage healthy eating: Get rid of the junk food and sodas in vending machines. Provide healthy snacks and bottled water to all employees. Having healthy food on hand may even keep employees from grabbing fast food for lunch.

Plan group activities: Rather than being stuck in the dinner-and-drinks rut for company-sponsored nights out, plan gatherings that incorporate physical activity, such as trampolining, bowling, or Zumba. You could also put together company teams for charity runs and walk-a-thons, which is good for public relations and promotes physical activity.

Invest in fitness-friendly furniture: Replace traditional desks with standing desks. Research has shown that standing for three or four hours during your workday burns an extra 30,000 calories per year — the equivalent of running 10 marathons.

Employers must recognize the significant impact employee health has on many aspects of a company’s overall productivity and success. Implementing a workplace health program that fits your company is a vital step toward creating a culture of health within your workplace.