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Wellness Where We Work, Live, and Learn

This is an excerpt from Winning Health Promotion Strategies By Anne Marie Ludovici-Connolly, MS, CHFS


Priority 1: Wellness Where We Work

Health care has soared to the top of almost every CEO’s agenda as health care costs continue to rise globally. Along with health care costs, the workweek continues to increase steadily, with the average now being more than 50 hours. These trends have resulted in support for worksite wellness. Organizations can glean numerous benefits from wellness programs. The return on investment (ROI) of wellness progress is threefold: for every dollar invested in wellness, three dollars are saved. Worksite wellness translates into the following:

  • Reduction of documented perceived barriers (e.g., time, energy, resources)
  • Stress reduction
  • Improved social support of colleagues, improving exercise adherence
  • Improved job satisfaction and morale (e.g., positive water cooler talk)
  • Improved employer–employee relations (e.g., mayor walking with employees)
  • Positive public opinion of elected officials

With the increase in dual-income families and the increase in the average workweek, many people have less discretionary time than ever before. Delivering wellness at work just makes sense and translates into lower health care costs, benefit savings, and improved quality of life for employees. Employers, large and small, have observed the numerous benefits that worksite wellness programs offer. Providing social support and time savings, wellness programs at the worksite appear to be a natural fit for successfully engaging adults in healthy lifestyle practices.

This perceived barrier of discretionary time has increased the demand for the convenience of worksite-based health promotion and wellness programs. As people spend more time at work, it makes sense to engage them where they are, making healthy lifestyles convenient and affordable at a place where they can receive social support and recognition or incentives for positive lifestyle changes. The following strategies and tips may assist you in developing effective worksite wellness programs:

 

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  • Self-directed programs. Self-directed programs have been proven to be effective because employees can have difficulty attending a class or event at a specific time. Such programs allow employees to be engaged at their own pace, on their own time, and at various levels of involvement.
  • Short-duration programs. Educational workshops that are 15 to 30 minutes long attract more employees than longer ones do. If necessary, you can deliver more content over a series of workshops.
  • Workday programs. Providing programs during work hours increases participation. If allowed to participate on company time, such as during breaks or lunch, even more employees attend.
  • Programs with incentives. Incentives have been shown to increase participation in worksite wellness programs and initiatives, particularly when linked to health benefit credits such as a reduction of health insurance copayments. However, the affect of incentives on financial outcomes remains unclear. Incentives are discussed in chapter 3.
  • Programs with top-down and bottom-up support. The support of senior leadership, middle management, and frontline employees, or ground troops, is a must. Even when senior leadership is on board, middle management may take additional recruitment efforts due to demanding workloads. Middle management, to whom the majority of employees directly report, needs to be supportive of employee participation in wellness events or meetings during normal business hours when possible. It is important that senior management and middle management openly discuss and address any supports and barriers to implementing a wellness initiative. It is also imperative that support come from the bottom up through peer and social networks (see chapter 3).

To reach the largest number of employees in a worksite setting, consider offering wellness programs at all locations, including remote or satellite locations, and during multiple work shifts. Worksite wellness programming must be sensitive to the time demands of employees as well as employers. Shorter programs may be an effective way to provide a taste of what a longer, more comprehensive initiative may entail. Programs offered at lunchtime are often better attended than those offered after work because many employees do not want to stay at their worksites after the workday has ended. Break time can be a good time to offer snapshots of health promotion opportunities. Wellness information and programs may be delivered to offices on mail carts to maximize participation, especially of the busiest executives.

Priority 2: Wellness Where We Live

On warm summer evenings on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee, you can get a great workout, along with dance lessons, engage in live music, and meet enthusiastic people at weekly summer dance block parties. Nashville’s Metro Parks and Recreation Department hosts these dance parties for eight consecutive weeks. Each week a different band is featured, providing music for all ages. Dance lessons are provided for community members. This gives the community an opportunity to gather, socialize, and exercise.

In a Nashville senior center, Let’s Dance, a one-hour dance class (featured in part II), attracted more participants than any physical activity program previously offered. The senior center had advertised many exercise classes in the past, only to draw minimal participation, until Let’s Dance. This class had great appeal!

These examples demonstrate that girls and boys and men and women of all ages “just wanna have fun.” Dancing not only is a great physical activity program, but it also has a therapeutic social component, which fosters self-efficacy, or self-confidence in adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors. (Bandura’s self-efficacy theory is discussed in chapter 3.) Communities, municipalities, and faith-based organizations are recognizing the need for members to practice healthy lifestyle behaviors. Of all the environments we move through, there may be no better place to achieve a healthy lifestyle than our own communities.

Communities have a unique opportunity to influence large populations; they have a captive audience and therefore can uniquely engage families, where they reside, in healthy lifestyle behaviors and programs. Communities may also have a variety of resources at their disposal to assist in wellness efforts, including departments such as buildings and grounds, recreation, and other municipal departments. These departments and their employees may have resources, services, budgets, and contacts, as well as unique perspectives and ideas, that can be leveraged to execute wellness programs.

How do wellness strategies in communities differ from other settings? How can you maximize results? Here are a few tips for success:

  • Plan events that can easily accommodate large groups of people.
  • Offer wellness opportunities for families.
  • Take advantage of seasonal sports and activities. For example, offer snowshoeing or ice skating in the winter, and offer walking programs and dance lessons in the summer.
  • Partner with other groups such as nonprofit organizations, other municipalities, and state departments.
  • Advocate for effective policy and environmental changes to support healthy behaviors (see chapter 4).
  • Arrange social opportunities to encourage commitment of participants in wellness activities.

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Priority 3: Wellness Where We Learn

“Yuck! Look at all the germs, and I just washed my hands!,” the middle school girl declared to her friends. As students observed their hands in a dark box after applying Glo Germ, they were able to see the millions of germs remaining after hand washing prior to entering the lunchroom. At an annual Kick Colds and Flu campaign (featured in part II) to reduce the spread of flu and the common cold, faculty and staff may pick up information and giveaways and participate in hands-on demonstrations to increase children’s knowledge and change their hand-washing habits to minimize the spread of germs.

Schools and universities recognize the opportunity and obligation to promote healthy minds and bodies through offering wellness programs to faculty, staff, and students where they spend most of their waking hours—at school. Featuring changes in policies, wellness programs, and conventional health and gym classes, schools are building a menu of wellness initiatives. Many schools are now developing wellness committees that include representatives from local government, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, parents, and teachers, among others.

First Lady Michelle Obama has assembled a new interagency task force that will develop a comprehensive plan of action to combat the growing obesity epidemic in children. Like the NGA Healthy America initiative, the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP), and Get Fit, Rhode Island!, Obama’s Let’s Move campaign will take a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach, and engage both the private and public sectors. The goal of the campaign is to, “help children become more active and eat healthier within a generation, so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight” (www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/02/09/making-moves-a-healthier-generation).

Let’s Move provides solutions and challenges for healthy schools, such as the Healthier US Schools Challenge Program (www.letsmove.gov/schools/index.html). In addition to the abundance of resources provided to promote healthy schools, Let’s Move also provides solutions to enhance access to improve nutrition and physical activity, along with many resources to promote healthy homes and communities (www.letsmove.gov/).

Call your local school district to see whether it has a wellness committee. If it does, join. If your district does not have a wellness committee, start one! How? Write to your superintendent and offer to organize such a committee. Identify key people involved in wellness in the community, and invite them to a meeting to discuss organizing a committee to improve the health and wellness of faculty, staff, and students.

Although academic success is strongly linked with health, increased academic pressures on school officials have prompted the request for more classroom time for academics, resulting in less time for physical education, physical activity, and recess. Competing demands for time pose barriers to wellness where we learn. Health-risk behaviors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity, substance use, and violence are consistently linked to academic failure because they often affect students’ school attendance, ability to pay attention in class, grades, and test scores. In turn, school funding is based, in part, on the overall academic performance of the school. Today, we are challenged with the need to embed health into the education environment for all students. One solution to improving health and academic performance is short-duration programs. These may be creative, educational, and trendy, and they can engage parents via take-home materials.

Integration into the academic curriculum may be another solution for promoting wellness where we learn. As adults spend a majority of their waking hours at the worksite, children spend the majority of their waking hours at school. Lesson plans in other subjects can include wellness education. For example, history class can include physical activity by going on historical walks, or math lessons can integrate nutrition concepts. Teachers can get creative with coupling wellness education with a variety of topics. ABC for Fitness and Nutrition Detectives, featured in part II, are just two model programs that effectively integrate wellness into the school curriculum.

How do wellness strategies at schools differ from other settings? How can you maximize results? Here are a few tips for success:

  • Integrate wellness education throughout the curriculum.
  • Institute effective wellness policies that are easy to implement.
  • Offer wellness information and displays during lunchtime.
  • Offer interactive demonstrations to capture interest and attention.
  • Offer take-home brochures to engage and involve parents.
  • Offer programs to both students and staff.

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