Wellness in the workplace

Good for waistlines & your bottom line


By Sandra Simpson, APRN, BC, COHN-S, manager in Occupational Health Services at a Fortune 500 company in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of the board of directors of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN). For a copy of the AAOHN wellness survey, visit, or call (800) 241-8014, x0.


In today’s hectic world, most of us are spending more time at work, and have increasingly less time to look after our health. For a long time, employers have understood the benefits associated with keeping workers well – increased productivity from decreased rates of absence and lowered disability claims. For these reasons, coupled with the fact that many businesses realized double-digit healthcare costs last year, businesses should consider Employee Health and Wellness Programs as a way to keep staff members healthy.


But just how important are these initiatives to staff members? How often are they willing to participate in initiatives designed to positively impact their health and wellness? Who do staff members trust to provide them with important information about their health?


Answers to these questions and more were recently garnered from a study commissioned by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN).


The AAOHN survey questioned 500 staff members nationwide about their perceptions of Employee Health and Wellness Programs. More than three-quarters of all members indicated these initiatives are a good way to improve their overall health, and nearly 60 percent consider these offerings an incentive to remain with their current employer. worker retention and turnover impact the bottom line, so building Employee Health and Wellness Programs into the work site culture is a valuable way to help retain talented staff members in addition to enhancing personal health and workplace productivity.


Health wish list


Employees appear to have their own agenda when it comes to their health. With new pressures resulting from an unstable economy, national security threats and work/balance issues, it’s not surprising that 85 percent of survey respondents cited Stress Management Programs as a priority topic for work site wellness.


In addition to stress, other preferred topic areas include testing initiatives (84 percent), exercise/physical fitness initiatives (84 percent), medical insurance education (81 percent) and disease management lunch and learns (80 percent).


In addition to lifestyle and personal health issues, those asked expressed concern about work-related health issues, including strains and injuries resulting from lifting or task-oriented muscle repetition, exposure to harmful substances, personal injury, vision changes due to computer work and workplace violence.


What you should do


With such a broad range of health concerns, a primary goal for employers is finding a way to proactively address the health needs of the largest number of staff members, and effectively change unhealthy behaviors, promote wellness and ward off disease and illness.


Printed materials such as brochures, posters, fliers or pamphlets present an easy solution. But it’s important to remember that different individuals require different formats for learning. A good rule of thumb: provide information in a variety of learning formats such as videos, pamphlets, health-related quizzes, display boards, lunch-and-learn presentations and reimbursement or incentive programs.


This assumes you’ve overcome the first hurdle – getting individuals to sign on to a Employee Health and Wellness Program. While survey respondents indicated health and Employee Health and Wellness Programs are important, just six out of 10 (60 percent) reported that they participated in the Employee Health and Wellness Programs at their businesses. The other 40 percent cited lack of interest and lack of time as deterrents.


This points to the need for a comprehensive, structured Employee Health and Wellness Program using a creative approach, with an incentive for participation and effective program marketing.


By investing in an organized Employee Health and Wellness Program headed by a qualified healthcare professional such as an worksite nurse, businesses can give staff members the access to the health information they want, and increase participation and generate interest at the same time.


The result: staff members become savvier healthcare consumers who feel more in charge of their personal health. And healthier staff members make for a healthier bottom line.

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What is Workplace Wellness?

Every work environment has unique characteristics and features that impact employee health. The issues that affect one organization, or even one worksite, may not be relevant to another. This makes it difficult to develop a universal definition of a workplace wellness.

A step-by-step approach to Workplace Wellness

There are many ways to achieve workplace wellness. Whether you hold a health seminar  at your school or compete with your colleagues in a health challenge, your contribution is important. Each new initiative, each forward step, reinforces our commitment to a healthier workplace.

If you’re interested in improving your work environment, you may find the following guidelines useful.

Workplace Wellness: Physical Environment

  • Meets and exceeds current health and safety legislation and directives
  • Manages general workplace conditions and facilities to ensure cleanliness and safety
  • Manages the various aspects of occupational hygiene, including lighting, indoor air quality and noise control
  • Ensures that employees understand the emergency systems provided in each worksite
  • Establishes strategies to address the potential risk of violence at the workplace

Workplace Wellness: Health practices

  • Supports healthy lifestyles through programs and initiatives that encourage skill building and behavioral change
  • Provides information that encourages active living and healthy nutrition
  • Encourages awareness of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Provides nutritious food choices at meetings and events

Workplace Wellness: Social Environment and Personal Resources

  • Supports and sustains an organizational culture that provides employees with: respect, a sense of belonging, a purpose and mission, a sense of control over their workload, freedom of expression, and protection from harassment and discrimination
  • Provides space for privacy, such as staff rooms and meeting areas
  • Assesses sources of organizational stress and develops strategies to reduce or eliminate those sources
  • Establishes employee feedback and reward/recognition programs
  • Respects the need to balance work and home responsibilities by considering issues such as:
    • flexible hours
    • accommodating family crises
    • job sharing opportunities
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Workplace Wellness Programs: Guiding Principles for a Healthy Workplace

Workplace Wellness Programs: Guiding Principles for a Healthy Workplace

  • Incorporating wellness into the organizational culture to create a healthy workplace
    The organization should demonstrate values and develop initiatives that support employee
    health and wellness
  • Leadership through involvement in workplace wellness programs
    All staff should demonstrate commitment to healthy workplace practices. Senior management should reinforce and encourage the changes necessary for improvements in workplace wellness
  • Focus on employees’ needs
    Healthy workplace wellness programs should be designed for all employees, regardless of their present level of health.  Workplace wellnes programs should accommodate different needs and preferences
  • Recognition that a person’s lifestyle consists of an interdependent set of health habits
    The elements of a healthy workplace are interdependent and build on one another to meet employees’ needs. Organizations should focus workplace wellness programs on skill development and behavioural change to help reinforce a healthy workplace
  • Adaptability to the special features of each workplace environment
    Each organization has its own operating procedures, structures and culture. Health programs should be integrated into the special features of each workplace
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