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Workforce Wellness Depends on Leadership, Personal Commitment

  • Published
  • 26 August 2014
  • Category
  • News

Posted by Peter Greaney, M.D., President, CEO and Medical Director, WorkCare

I looked out my office window last week and was pleased to see a small group of employees heading off on a power walk.

They were exercising on company time as part of WorkCare’s “Biggest Loser” contest. I prefer to think of employees who make a commitment to exercising, shedding pounds and making healthy food choices as “Big Winners” who, in turn, create a big wins for our company. But if losing works for them, then I am in favor of it.

Our Biggest Loser contest is designed to encourage employees to take a team approach to developing plans, setting realistic goals and working together to reach them. As an occupational physician and preventive medicine specialist, I support all individuals in their pursuit of a heathier lifestyle. And I’m conscientious about the need to be a role model. I got the message about 15 years ago: I exercise and limit carbs to 100 grams as part of my personal daily fitness pledge.

Leading companies that promote workforce health and well-being through education, specialized programs and incentives don’t need to be reminded that commitment starts at the top. They know if senior executives are not on board that employees are likely to follow their lead. It takes strong leadership to create and sustain a true culture of workplace health and safety.

In the past 30-plus years of practicing occupational medicine, I’ve seen work-related injury and illness rates drop dramatically thanks to regulatory oversight, improved health and safety management, and the realization that harming employees doesn’t have to be a cost of doing business.

Ironically, while work environments have improved, you can’t say the same for the people who work in them. More workers than ever are unhealthy and at risk of injury, chronic illness and disability. What can we do about it?

Senior executives and managers can do their part, first by showing they care about their own health and, second by making it as easy as possible for employees on the front lines to participate in prevention and health promotion programs. This may include employee participation on health and safety committees and offering them incentives such as annual premium discounts, waivers of cost-sharing requirements or benefits (such as gym memberships) that would not otherwise be provided.

In a November 2013 policy paper, Wellness Programs: Do They Work? the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation notes that because wellness programs components vary widely, it’s difficult to measure results. However, a review of numerous studies revealed three components common to programs that produced favorable outcomes:

  • Group counseling
  • Follow-up contact with participants after initial intervention
  • Individualized or customized components such as one-on-one counseling or personalized education materials as opposed to generic materials

I’ve found that similar components apply to employees recovering from a work-related injury or illness: People seem to do better when their co-workers and supervisors are supportive; their employer, physician and/or nurse case manager check on their welfare; and their return-to-work plan is tailored to their specific concerns.

It often takes an accident, health scare or some other type of epiphany to change personal behavior. Why wait for that to happen?

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