This headline caught my eye in the NBC Health News “Smoking employees cost $6,000 a year more, study finds.” Is it no wonder why there are more and more employersCost of smoking seeking to put smoking policies into the workplace?

The study by Micah Berman of Ohio State University, was a culmination of reviewing studies on health care costs, presenteeism – “when people are at work but not putting in full effort” states Berman. In addition, Berman and his colleagues, reviewed studies that calculated the cost of more sick days by smokers and the cost of employee smoke breaks. Smoke breaks were included in lost productivity of smokers taking longer breaks due to the smoking ban within the workplace.

In the booklet Save Lives, Save Money, Make your Business Smoke-Free by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),  have a few unexpected reasons why a smoke-free work place is good for the bottom line.

  • Going smoke-free reduces the risk of fires and accidental injuries
  • Going smoke-free reduces cleaning and maintenance costs
  • Going smoke-free reduces potential legal liability for legal suits from non-smokers

Here are a few tips from the CDC if you want to implement a workplace smoking policy:

  • Give yourself six months to a year to plan the new policy
  • Set up a task force to oversee the process, include top management, smokers, non-smokers
  • Gather information to educate the task force. Survey your employees to understand their needs and concerns.
  • Write the policy. Keep it clear, simple and straightforward. Address how the policy will work and how it will enforced.
  • Announce the policy. Several months before the start date send out a letter from top management to introduce policy.
  • Offer support to all employees who want to quit smoking, such as free or reimbursed cessation programs on-site or through local providers, and nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Start policy
  • Monitor the policy and continue to get feedback from both employees and other stakeholder groups.

Implementing a smoke-free workplace policy will create both healthier employees as well as a healthier business bottom line.

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To create a meaningful wellness program that will align with the specific health needs of your company and engage employees in a culture of wellness, it is important to create a Wellness Committee made up of volunteers from all areas of your workforce.

A Wellness Committee represents all stakeholder groups who will ultimately participate in your wellness program, from management to shift workers and is led by an appointed “Wellness Champion,” who should be someone who has the ability to develop agendas, keep the team on task , define priorities, and effectively communicate with, and motivate others. The Wellness Committee members are the advocates for workplace policies and environment changes that support the wellness program. Most importantly, they serve as champions and role models for the program by actively participating in the Wellness Program and encouraging fellow employees to do the same.

Managerial support of the Wellness Committee and its recommendations is paramount to the success of any wellness program. The responsibilities of the Wellness Committee must be considered by management to be a part of their job descriptions and, thus, should be fully supported and subject to performance review.

The reason a Wellness Committee is so important to the sustainability of a worksite wellness program is that it makes it personal. Rather than presenting a pre-packaged set of activities that any company could do, it creates a sense of ownership for the wellness program and allows it to form into something unique to your company and your employees.

Worksite wellness programs are becoming the norm in corporate America.  The key to having a successful program is through the creation of a supportive environment in the workplace. As cited by an employee who has both experienced a program that was mandated and then at a later date made optional, but with tools to make it both interesting and inspiring, “ The last program we had was force-fed.  We felt like it was part of our job and not a personal choice. Now we can see management taking strides to support all of us and themselves in creating a culture of healthy living.”

Best practices in the field of worksite health promotion states one of the seven benchmarks of creating a results-oriented worksite wellness program is to create an environment that supports a culture of wellness.  Research shows one factor that heavily weighs the success of a wellness program is having senior management commitment to the experience through personal actions in leadership. This removes, to some degree, the barrier that employees put up because they feel their employer is dictating their personal life choices. The see that management is in the game along side them, also making changes that better their health and quality of life.

Wellness is not a “one-size-fits-all” initiative. Each participant has unique life circumstances, medical histories and risk factors as a result. When there is group level support as well as individualized attention to personal goals setting research shows successful programs are born.

Employers taking the first steps to be well are leaders in the initiative.  Some initiatives that have successfully aided in the transition to creating a culture of health are as follows:

  • Making the workplace smoke-free by putting into place policies that prohibit smoking on the property and implementing a smoking cessation support program
  • Wellness Challenges that engage and motivate. Each campaign centered on increasing physical activity, proper nutrition and better self-care.
  • Offering a steady stream of relevant health-related information and education to employees. This being done to promote on-going excitement and inspiration through the power of knowledge.
  • Sharing success stories and testimonials is one of the easiest ways to engage the heart of the employee that is on the fence about changing their lifestyle. It helps make possibilities real.
  • Implement healthy eating guideline policies to make certain healthful options are always made available in vending machines and all catered company functions. Companies with cafeteria offerings may consider offering a discount on all healthy meal options as well as sharing food-labeling information to encourage making healthy choices.
  • Implement an hourly over-head chime reminder to promote getting up to stretch, move or change position.
  • Start a stairwell program.

Creating an environment of support to the whole employee population, as well as the individual takes time. Each company has its unique needs.  Finding the balance is what will make it work. Happy, healthy, cared for employees have been proven to be more productive. Having a healthy workforce is a powerful tool for success. Let today be the day you take the first steps toward creating a culture of health in your workplace.

By Melissa Naborowsky, RN

From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades, concerts, casual barbecues with family and friends, and for most employees a day off from work.

At this holiday we celebrate not only liberty but also autonomy, self-determination, independence and choice.  Interestingly, these are also things employees’ want from a work site wellness program.  No one likes being told what to do especially when it comes to eating and physical activities, which are generally done on their own time.  Yet this is often exactly what work site wellness program tend to do.  Employees are told eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise more, do this, don’t do that.

While giving direction can’t be avoided, employees should be given as much freedom to reach the goal as possible.  How can they be dictated to and given freedom at the same time?  Here are a few suggestions.

Educate.  Use facts and data.  As I plan a fruit and vegetable campaign for a client I want to start by telling them less than 5% of their employees are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. I am hoping that number will have an impact on them, at least more so than just saying eat more fruits and vegetables.   And education on the benefits of fruits and vegetables will also be an important part of the campaign.

Make it fun:  Yes for an exercise challenge it is important to log the exercise one is doing. But I think it gets more ingrained when employees are given the freedom to plan what the active work activity should be.  Some wonderful examples my own clients have come up with include; having a volleyball tournament against a rival company or an internal whiffle ball game that just wouldn’t stop even when that poor whiffle ball was more duct tape than plastic.

Make it easy:  While they may be doing this as part of their job, it is not their job.  Whatever you are asking them to do needs to be simple, simple, simple with realistic deadlines and assistance available if needed.

Perhaps George S. Patten said it best,

Never tell people how to do things.

Tell then what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

Valorie Bender CWPC

A colleague and I were developing a physical activity program for a client and were reviewing the rough outline.  Our manager asked on what we were basing the program goals? I am embarrassed to admit, after doing this for a while, I had jumped in and started planning based on my overall knowledge. I did not begin with the data.

I had committed a cardinal sin in Worksite Health Promotion. While there may be some common factors in most challenges or programs, each audience is unique. Whether this is your first challenge or 100th you should always start with the data.

What had previous challenges or the Health Risk Assessment (HRA) told us about how much the employees at this organization were exercising? Based on the HRA and previous challenge evaluations or employee interest surveys, what did we know about what employees wanted or were ready to do?

I remember reading an article about an organization that wanted to target physical activity, based on the companies HRA results.  The employee interest surveys showed there was a large interest in baseball.  A Spring Training Physical Activity program was developed.  Brilliant, the employees were instantly engaged.

To give another example, a company develops a healthy eating campaign.  The goal is to eat eight servings of fruit and vegetables as day.  If the organization knew the employees were currently only eating one to two servings of fruit and vegetables a day, how would that change the program or the goal?  What are the chances of hitting the goal of eight servings a day if you are starting at one?

Most companies offer some type of wellness programs. The majority are activity centered – they throw a bunch of activities at employees and hope for results.

In contrast, results-oriented initiatives are those programs that are based on company data and thoughtfully designed. Results-oriented programs are more likely to impact the organization’s bottom line through high participation levels, improved employee health and increased productivity.

Valorie Bender

I’ve been asking friends about the dynamics in their workplaces, the good, the bad, and what has made for a really different type of environment.  One story in particular really stands out for me.  This one person worked in a very high stress, fast paced job where, in addition to all the other duties, they had to regularly create programming for schoolchildren and deal with constant schedule changes.  Such an environment sounds completely awful to me but, when asked, he said that it was his co-workers that made all the difference.  Even with the high stress environment, the team that worked there were able to roll with the changes.  Absenteeism was low and job satisfaction remained high until that division was completely reorganized.  What made this office so successful?  Many things, of course, but one of them is that everyone was physically fit and maintained regular exercise routines.

My friend’s job was very physical and the other workers had at least one fitness-type activity that they pursued.  The manager, for example, biked to work daily.  Another person had been in the habit of regular gym visits since high school.  One of the employees had been a nutritionist and was still an avid hiker.  This gave each person a connection to the others in addition to sharing a workplace, building on the team spirit.  Completely by chance they all found themselves thriving in a tense work environment and part of the reason was that their bodies were physically fit and with that comes better psychological resiliency.

Physical health is only the most obvious part of the story.  Hidden within the activities that kept them fit was that they all had enough time away from work to effectively manage life mechanics and still exercise while pursuing their active hobbies.  This allowed them to “recharge” even between workdays, getting completely away from the workplace, mentally and emotionally as well as physically.  According to my friend, this made everyone feel more present while at work, something the supervisors noticed and mentioned frequently. A very pleasant side effect coming from these factors: physical health, psychological resilience, productive and recuperative time away from work, each person feeling present and like they are contributing to the team, and recognition from managers?  There wasn’t a single onsite accident in the three years my friend worked there.

This happened years ago, before the word wellness was being used in its modern connotation, but more and more studies are showing that the more physically fit people are, the happier they are in all aspects of their life, including work.  Instances of illness drop off and people report that they don’t feel quite so “stressed out” much of the time.  Naturally, in such an environment, job satisfaction goes up and people aren’t as quick to leave.  Also interesting is a very recent finding that shows positive effects for organizations who adopt wellness as part of their corporate culture.  Managers have a great deal of influence over shaping the culture of a workplace and one that fosters a sense of wellness is appreciated and often reciprocated by the employees.

Of course, most of this is pretty much what we knew already: healthy people with good habits tend to be happier and more psychologically resilient.  Having a work environment that fosters respect, teamwork, and good health makes for a place where stress is better managed and contentedness is commonplace.  The workplace may not be where we want to spend our time, but with a few tweaks it can become a much nicer, healthier, and more productive place.

Jackie Ostrikis MS CPT

There is a great article in today’s WSJ on the benefits of physical activity.
This supports the reasoning behind making increasing physical activity a core element in worksite wellness programs.

Here are some great stats (from this article):

  • Recent studies show that THE most important factor for longevity is staying physically active as you age.
  • “If you are fit in mid-life, you double your chances of surviving to 85.” Or – if you’re in your 50s and NOT active, your projected lifespan “is eight years shorter than if you are fit.” — Dr. Jarrett Berry, cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Ctr.
  • Physical inactivity is even more deadly than smoking! The benefits of increasing physical activity were found to be even greater than the benefits of quitting smoking. (In an earlier study conducted by University of Hong Kong – not cited in this article – they found that physical inactivity caused more deaths than smoking.)
  • “It’s one more piece of data that says we all need to be moving in America. It’s pretty clear that Americans want to take a pill, but we’re all going to be bankrupt unless people start taking on these lifestyle changes.” — Emelia Benjamin, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine
  • National guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times/week or 20 minutes of intense exercise three times/week. About half of Americans are meeting these minimum recommendations.
  • It’s never too late to start. In fact, “The biggest bang for your buck is just getting off the couch.” — Dr. Berry

What are you doing today to be more physically active?

Mari Ryan