Developing A Culture of Health at the Workplace
Jun 1, 2012
Why should you create a culture of health at work?
With chronic diseases on the rise, along with health care dollars, it makes perfect sense to create a culture of health at the workplace, especially since most working adults spend at least half of their waking hours at work. By creating a healthy community at work you can have an impact on your employees overall health.
Chronic diseases result in a significant amount of preventable morbidity and mortality in the United States. In 2000, 46.7% of all deaths in the United States were caused by modifiable health behaviors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 33% of all deaths in the United States are attributable to just three modifiable health behaviors: smoking, physical inactivity, and poor eating habits.
Chronic diseases are the leading cause of direct healthcare costs. In fact, researchers estimate that
75% of all healthcare costs stem directly from preventable chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Chronic diseases are also a major cause of lost productivity and disability.
- It is estimated that the indirect cost of cardiovascular disease will total over $145 billion in 2006.
- Each year, an estimated 39 million work days are lost to obesity-related illnesses.
- In 1999, lost productivity due to smoking, and smoking-related illnesses cost employers $1,897 per smoking employee. Excess medical expenses due to smoking and smoking related illnesses cost employers $1,850 per smoking employee (both figures adjusted to year 2002 dollars).
When beginning down the path of corporate wellness, one question that an employer should ask is “How can I create a culture of health at the workplace?”
Many employers will jump right into implementing wellness programs, but fail to set a foundation of health by creating a real “culture” at the workplace. By solidifying the company’s commitment to healthy employees, you can gain more engagement from your employees. When creating a culture of health at the workplace an employer is making a statement to their employees that they care about their health, and are dedicated to helping them live healthier lives.
Creating this culture of health does not have to cost the employer additional money: in fact, this strategy can assist in minimizing their budget spent on health care dollars that over time. But developing a strong culture of health does take time and commitment. Messages need to be tailored to ensure that employees understand what their employer is doing, while policies should be developed to align with the company’s values.
In addition to sending an important message of health to employees, wellness programs have a better chance of reaching their full potential when coupled with a strong culture of health at the workplace. By intertwining a company’s leadership, values, and business strategy into a their wellness plan, they can create a strong culture of health at the workplace that will not only strengthen their commitment to wellness, but also assist in increasing morale and overall well-being among their employee population.
This culture can be introduced in various manners, but here are some recommendations for an employer to start with to send a message of health and wellness to their employees.
- Executive support
- Wellness committee
- Healthy workplace policies
- Mission statement
- “A, B, C, D, E’S” of wellness
- Targeted communication
Showing Executive Support
Regardless of whether you are just getting started or you have been leading a successful wellness program for years, working with your executive team and gaining their support will help solidify your wellness foundation at the workplace.
Having a message, or two, come from the top down will demonstrate your company’s genuine commitment to wellness and send you on your way to a successful wellness program. When the CEO, President, or Founder create and distribute a letter of support for the company’s wellness initiatives, this helps to send a strong message of commitment for your wellness program, resulting in greater participation and enthusiasm for your wellness program.
Building an internal wellness committee
Relying on just one person for implementing wellness has its barriers and having champions out in the workforce helps spread the word of wellness even farther. Having employees who have a passion for healthy living join your wellness team can increase the impact of your wellness efforts. When recruiting employees to be part of the wellness committee, consider inviting those who are not part of the management or executive teams so that you may get a more diverse population, and a true sample of your target audience. Try not to set limits for participation in this team by capping the number of volunteers in the group, or asking only those who are themselves engaged in a healthy lifestyle; invite all of those who may be interested as this team can wax and wane in participation.
Recommendations from the CDC for wellness committee responsibilities include the following:
- Evaluate current programs, services and policies that are available at your workplace
- Survey employee needs and preferences
- Develop a wellness operating plan, including a vision statement, goals, and objectives
- Assist in implementing, monitoring, and evaluating wellness activities
- Strategic priorities for the wellness committee (examples):
- To promote general health and well-being to employees and their spouses through awareness programs.
- To offer workshops and seminars that will educate employees on current wellness issues/topics.
- To offer programs to employees in order to help facilitate positive behavior change.
- To carry the company’s message into the community through participation in wellness-related programs and events.
How the other departments can assist the wellness committee:
- The legal and the executive team - review and approve all healthy policy changes.
- Human Resources, benefits, and facilities department - plan wellness events.
- The Information Technology Group - promote wellness programs via the Internet and Intranet.
- The HR team - identify goals and objectives for wellness programming.
- The marketing department - assist in promoting wellness program events including (but not limited to) Wellness Fairs, Blood Drives and the Corporate Challenges.
- Payroll - monitor and track all payroll deductions/incentives for wellness participation.
- The legal offices/HR - review and approve the fitness/wellness participant liability waivers and the management contract with vendors (if applicable)
Developing Healthy Workplace Policies
When most employers/employees think of policies they think of “restrictions” or “guidelines” that instruct people on how to behave. When developing healthy workplace policies, the opposite is true. These policies are designed to help employees live healthier lives at the workplace, by providing them with more opportunities to improve their current state of health. These policies should be designed to be “inclusive” but not “restrictive”. This can be done by providing a supportive environment for those who are not only actively making healthy choices in their lives, but those who need a more supportive environment to engage in healthier habits.
When an employer shows their support of healthy habits at the workplace it can inspire employees to actively change their behaviors during and after work hours. These policies can demonstrate how an employer can support the health of their employees.
Positive policy changes include the following:
- Tobacco-free workplace
- Healthy food options at work
- Flexible working schedules
- Sun protection
Creating a Mission Statement
Mission statements send a message of commitment to employees and to guests. Many companies already have an “operational” and/or “business” mission statement, but creating a wellness mission statement directed towards your employees’ health helps solidify your commitment to ensuring a healthy and happy workplace.
Company Mission Statement
It is important to think about what you hope to accomplish and who will do what, when, and how, regardless of the size of the company. A well-defined mission statement can and should motivate your employees, and clarify your purpose. A program mission statement, like an organizational mission statement, briefly lists the overarching values that drive the venture and the ultimate goals or accomplishments that the program will strive to achieve.
By creating a wellness-related mission statement for your employees, you are showing them your commitment to their health. This also helps set a tone for cultural change within the workplace.
- “The mission of the ABC Company’s Wellness program is to establish a work environment that promotes healthy lifestyles, decreases the risk of disease, enhances the quality of life, and increases productivity through healthy lifestyle choices. We encourage company personnel and their families to strengthen their health and well-being through educational opportunities, wellness activities and self-improvement.”
Creating a Wellness Committee Mission Statement
Having a wellness committee can be a rare commodity for many companies. Creating a mission statement for the wellness committee will help keep the committee focused and on track, with their overall goal to develop and implement strategies that will assist their co-workers with their overall health goals. This statement should support your company’s wellness mission statement, while stating specific tasks the committee will provide.
- “It is the mission of the ABC Worksite Wellness Program Committee to develop healthier lifestyle choices to lower health risk factors, improve central well-being, and maintain a productive, active work force, through creating an environment that encourages social and environmental support for a healthy lifestyle.”
The “A, B, C, D, E’s” of a Successful Wellness Program
Creating an environment that supports your wellness initiative requires that you consider different aspects within the workplace that can have an impact on your implementation efforts. There are several different strategies that can be addressed within the workplace that provide opportunities for employees. There are a few easy to follow rules that can open up new possibilities for employees and create a healthier workplace for all. When beginning your program, consider asking if your initiatives are addressing any of the simple guidelines below. (Some initiatives will cover more than one of these areas.)
ACCESS- Providing access to healthy options within the workplace can make or break an individual’s efforts to living a healthier life. There are many different ways to create access to a healthy life at the workplace such as providing healthy food at meetings, building an on-site gym, creating more attractive stairwells, or fine tuning your benefit coverage to ensure that employees can receive the preventive care they need. Creating access is sometimes as simple as removing barriers such as time and cost.
BARRIERS- Time and money are the biggest barriers that most people report as to why they do not, or cannot, engage in a healthier lifestyle. By limiting or removing these barriers you can increase the success of employees reaching their goals, which creates happier and more productive employees. Here are some ways to remove/decrease barriers for employees:
- Provide/subsidize gym memberships
- Allow flexible work schedules
- Ensure that preventive care is covered at 100%
- Provide a tobacco cessation program with no cost-sharing
- Provide on-site activities such as
- Physical activity programs
- Biometric screenings
- Flu vaccinations
CREATIVITY- Being creative and thinking “outside the box” can help many bland programs become more successful. Not all programs fit all employees, and not all messages will inspire everyone to make healthy changes in their lives. By becoming more creative with messaging and program design, you can “tweak” any program to fit your employee culture, resulting in a more successful program. No one knows your employee population better than you do, and by being able to customize pre-packaged programs and messages to your population you will invite more participation in your programs, resulting in positive outcomes for your employees.
DEFINE GOALS AND OBJECTIVES- By defining clear objectives for your wellness program, you can then begin to choose strategies that will achieve those goals. Re-defining goals every year or two will keep you moving forward and keep your wellness program fresh and energized.
- Goals are statements of broad, long-term accomplishments expected from the program. Each goal has one or more objectives established to ensure that the goal will be successfully accomplished.
- Ideally, objectives should be clear, time-limited, and stated in a way that it is easy to determine whether or not you have reached them. Making your objectives measurable provides a way to evaluate your progress and chart your success.
- Keep in mind the “S.M.A.R.T.” rule when writing your objectives: Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Reasonable; Timely.
Example: “ABC Company will be a tobacco-free workplace within 6 months.”
- Consult with legal team on constructing language for new tobacco-free policy.
- Enhance benefit coverage to ensure that tobacco cessation nicotine replacement therapies are covered for those who may attempt to quit, and/or partner with a third party vendor to provide tobacco cessation.
- Announce policy and tobacco cessation benefit change to employees six months prior to policy implementation.
- Prepare worksite(s) for tobacco-free policy by removing any designated smoking areas, preparing signs to be posted and posting them in a timely manner.
- Implement and enforce new tobacco policy.
EDUCATION- Educating employees on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through promotional efforts such as regular health education campaigns, postings on bulletin boards, and/or email blasts, etc. are the foundation of a successful wellness campaign. Education has been shown to be a key factor in a persons’ desire to integrate healthy changes in their lives. By focusing on one message at a time you can have a greater impact on the outcome of your employees’ health and behavior. By educating an employee on not only “how” but “why”, he or she should live a healthier life and you can help facilitate behavioral changes that may lead to healthier lifestyles within your employee population.
Communicating with your employees about wellness offerings is key in gaining participation. If they do not know what is available, they won’t use it. This is why it is important to identify how you will communicate with your employees, and develop your message that speaks to the population. Communication at work can prompt employees to bring health ideas home to their families, helping create a healthier home environment, too. Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing your communication strategy:
- Plan your marketing strategy by asking some of these key questions:
o Whom do you want to reach with this message?
o What do you want your audience to do?
o What is the benefit of this message?
o What’s your timeline?
o What message do you want to get across to your employees?
o How will this message be delivered (email, posters, payroll stuffers, etc.)?
o What will be the frequency of these communications (weekly, monthly, quarterly)?
o Is your message timely? (consider what the health community is messaging at the time)
- Prioritize your messages
- Ensure that the messages are coming from credible resources
- Share your plan with managers and supervisors for continued support of wellness
- Be sensitive to cultural diversities
- Determine incentives and rewards for participation in programs (if using a rewards system)
- Who will be sending this message (HR, executive team, CEO, etc.)?
- Send message to employees according to schedule
Shelly Henderson, CHES, Wellness Programs Manager, Healthentic
With a degree in Community Health/Exercise Physiology and nearly 20 years in the health and fitness world and 10 focused on developing corporate wellness programs, I have a passion for helping people obtain a healthy life.
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