By By Kerry Horne, M.Ed., HealthTrust Wellness Coordinator
The 40-hour work week has become a thing of the past. American adults now work 47 hours per week on average, according to a recent Gallup poll, and those longer work hours can increase their risk for certain health problems, especially for people who have stressful, sedentary jobs. More demands are put on employees today and increasingly the work/life balance is diminishing. As an employer, you can play a key role in keeping your employees healthy, productive and engaged by creating a culture of wellness at your workplace.
What is a Culture of Wellness?
Culture is the character and “pulse” of your organization. Every worksite has its own unique character; the goal is to incorporate health and wellness into your culture slowly over time. By taking baby steps that will lead to long-term sustainability, you can create a culture of wellness at your worksite through individual and group wellness programs and educating and engaging your employees to transform unhealthy habits into healthy ones. Behavior change sticks when it becomes part of your organization’s daily routine and when it is aligned with your organizational goals.
Most workplace wellness programs target certain key lifestyle risk factors that are related to chronic diseases, the leading drivers of increasing healthcare costs for employers, and reduced productivity from employees missing work because of illness and/or stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that chronic diseases affect nearly half of all Americans, cause 7 out of 10 premature deaths, and are the most common and costly of all health problems. Some of the leading lifestyle risk factors that contribute to chronic illness include:
lack of preventive health screenings
lack of sleep
Today, the goal of many worksite wellness programs is to reverse these lifestyle risk factors and create a healthier, more supportive and even happier workplace for everyone.
Elements of a Successful Worksite Wellness Program
Building a culture of wellness at your worksite takes time and involves all levels of management within your organization. Successful programs:
have strong management support,
have strong leaders or wellness champions,
cultivate a positive and upbeat image,
are well-designed with input from employees,
use incentives effectively.
When health and wellness are part of the overall mission of the organization they work their way into policies and the worksite environment and begin to become part of the culture. A supportive healthy work environment might include a tobacco-free worksite policy, healthy vending machine options, healthy options served at meetings, and time built into the work day for physical activity, such as walking groups.
Four Steps to a Healthier Workplace
One of the first steps in creating a culture of wellness is completing a culture audit. The CDC has created a manual to assist employers in assessing worksite health promotion and wellness programs. To access it, visit www.cdc.gov and type Worksite Health ScoreCard (HSC) in the search box. Along with the HSC, the CDC has developed a Workplace Health Model that promotes the concept that workplace wellness programs can, in fact, reduce health risks, improve the health of workers and create a healthier work environment. A key component of this model is the idea that worksites can and should create an employee centered culture that offers a wide variety of programs and health based initiatives.
The CDC Workplace Health Model involves the following four steps:
Workplace Health Assessment – utilizing tools that assess the current worksite culture, environment and employee health. The CDC has compiled a list of tools and resources that are available to help assess your worksite at this link: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/assessment-tools.html
Planning and Management – looking at short-term and long-term program goals and identifying what will work best for your worksite based on your particular demographics and resources. As part of this step, it is critical to gain leadership support and to identify worksite champions and the resources available for this initiative. For information on planning, visit https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/planning/index.html
Implementation – offering individual wellness programs that encourage heathy behaviors, and promoting initiatives that encourage a healthy work environment. Examples of individual health programs could include exercise programs and classes, gym memberships, walking programs, nutrition and cooking classes, weight loss programs and smoking cessation. Examples of initiatives that promote a healthy work environment include establishing a smoke-free worksite, offering healthy vending and food options, allowing flexible work schedules and working to reduce worksite stress. For ideas and resources related to implementation visit: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/workplace-health.html
Evaluation – if you have worked your way through the first three steps you need to make sure you take time to evaluate the impact your programs and initiatives are having on employee health and your worksite environment. Evaluation tools can be as simple as employee and leadership surveys. By evaluating your program you will be able to identify any potential gaps in your programming and gain valuable feedback to share with leadership and your employees.
The CDC has created a checklist that you can use to work your way through the four steps above: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/pdf/workplacehealth-checklist.pdf
3 Keys to Success
Whether you follow the CDC Workplace Health Model exactly or adapt it to fit your own workplace, here are three key action steps to keep in mind.
Gain Leadership Support
Before beginning any program or initiative it is critical to gain leadership and management support. Take time to meet with leadership and ask for their support with your efforts. If you can get leadership on board and perhaps even involved in your wellness initiatives you have a much greater chance of success. When leadership promotes and endorses wellness efforts employees are more likely to participate and engage in your program.
Create a Committee
The old saying “there is strength in numbers” absolutely applies to worksite wellness. The main role of wellness committee members is to communicate, participate, motivate, and support your program. Having a team that is made up of enthusiastic volunteers from all parts of your organization who are ready to promote health and wellness is important. Once you have your committee established your next step is to develop a mission statement, goals and objectives that will serve as the foundation of your committee.
Once you have leadership support and a wellness committee you are ready to begin offering programs and this is where creativity and fun can lead to engagement. Start by surveying your employees to ask what they want to focus on; use those results to plan your wellness programs. One common mistake made at the start of a wellness program is to have survey results that indicate one area of interest from employees, and then offer something totally different. For example if your survey results show your employees would like to learn to reduce stress and you offer a weight loss program, you have not utilized your survey results to your benefit. A better option might be to have a stress management lunch-and-learn, or perhaps to contact staff from a local massage school to come to your worksite and offer free chair massage.
The Big Payoff
By creating a culture of wellness at your worksite you are investing in your employees. The benefits go beyond reducing stress and improving employee health; they can also include encouraging teamwork and collaboration, improving productivity, and increasing employee engagement, loyalty, happiness and health. Can you think of any other investment that offers such a big return? No wonder many employers today are seeing the value that a healthier workforce has not only on their work environment but on their bottom line.
Kerry Horne, M.Ed. is a Wellness Coordinator at HealthTrust. Kerry can be reached by phone at 603.230.3356 or my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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