MAP-IT in Action – In the Workplace: Employees Organize To Improve Workplace Wellness
Linda recently had a mild heart attack and was out of work for 3 months. She returns to work and discusses her experience with a few coworkers. They are all surprised to learn that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Linda shares information with them about the simple changes she’s making to help prevent another heart attack, such as going for walks during lunch and using less salt when she cooks.
Linda and her coworkers believe that other company employees need to know about their risk of heart disease and how to prevent it. They contact the company’s human resources (HR) department for a meeting to talk about ways to share health information with other employees. At the meeting, they all decide to form a workplace wellness committee, which will look into programs for improving employees’ well-being.
The workplace wellness committee first conducts an environmental scan to see what information exists and what, if any, wellness programs are available to employees. They find a few prepackaged programs from their health insurance company, but they require someone at their workplace to manage them. The group then meets and reviews data on sick days and short-term disability leave. They decide that they need more company-specific information on why employees are missing work and what types of wellness programs would help them.
They create an anonymous, brief online survey and send it out to the entire company. Out of 175 employees, they receive over 80 responses. Seventy-five percent of employees respond that they exercise sometimes or never. The main reason they stay home is because they (or their children) have a cold or flu. Nearly all of the employees selected “stress” as the top health issue they want the committee to address. With this and other information the committee receives from the survey, they are able to prioritize the top 3 issues for the program to address: exercise, cold and flu prevention, and stress.
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Although Linda and her coworkers wanted to focus on heart disease, they come to the agreement that the committee should address the top issues from the survey results. The workplace wellness committee decides that they will try increasing employees’ physical activity during this quarter, which is directly linked with decreasing heart disease risk. Based on the success of that program, the workplace wellness committee will address a different priority topic each quarter.
Through their health insurance provider, they find a “small steps” program that they think would work in their company. The program encourages adults to get the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity by incorporating 10 minutes of movement 3 times throughout the day. They develop communication, implementation, and evaluation plans. Each plan has a specific timeline and person responsible for ensuring the completion of each activity.
To gain support from the company’s management, the committee puts together a report highlighting the Healthy People 2020 objectives related to workplace wellness. They find Physical Activity topic area developmental objective 12: Increase the proportion of employed adults who have access to and participate in employer-based exercise facilities and exercise programs. The committee also finds two relevant developmental objectives from Educational and Community-Based Programs: objective 8: Increase the proportion of worksites that offer an employee health promotion program to their employees, and objective 9: Increase the proportion of employees who participate in employer-sponsored health promotion activities. Although developmental objectives do not yet have national baseline data, they do have a confirmed, nationally representative data source that the committee could use to inform their own data collection.
Management is enthusiastic about the prospect of being “ahead of the curve” in the area of workplace wellness, and the marketing department is interested in using the potential positive public relations angle to attract clients and new employees.
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The workplace wellness committee implements the “small steps” program, which encourages employees to take 10-minute breaks throughout the day to do physical activity. The program encourages simple, inexpensive activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and starting walking clubs during the lunch break. Linda posts flyers on the elevators to encourage coworkers to use the stairs and in the stairwells to congratulate employees on their small steps. The walking clubs are led by a different workplace wellness committee member each day, and employees are reminded about the walks on their time sheets and over the announcement system.
At the end of the quarter, the workplace wellness committee sends a follow-up survey to see if employees participated in lunchtime walks or report using the stairs more often. The survey also asks questions about the tone and style of the committee’s “small steps” messages in addition to the same questions about health from the first survey. This time they have more than 100 responses. All employees report knowing about the campaign, and most have a positive opinion about it. Fifty percent of employees report going on at least 1 lunchtime walk, and 35 percent report going on 5 or more lunchtime walks. There was not a significant change in the number of employees who reported they sometime or never exercise, but the committee hopes to ask the questions each quarter to see if they can track small improvements over time.
The workplace wellness committee knows that they will need to stay focused and active for the program to continue. Even with the support of management and HR, it will take leaders from the committee to continue to advocate for corporate support of wellness programs.
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