Business Team

How to Improve Your Health at Work

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Business TeamDoes your employer offer a worksite wellness program? And, if they do, are you taking advantage of it? If you’re not, you could be missing out on a great opportunity to improve your health, as well as your mood.

And if you run your own company and are not offering such a program, you could be overlooking a chance to improve employee health and satisfaction, lower absenteeism and health care costs, and improve work quality and productivity.

A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine evaluated the effectiveness of a worksite wellness program at improving health behaviors and personal health.[1] For this, they used small business employer Woodard & Curran, an integrated engineering, science and operations company.

The study authors noted that small and midsized businesses often face barriers to implementing effective wellness programs, including lack of dedicated wellness staff, cost, employees that are located across wide geographical areas, and lack of time and knowledge necessary to offer behavior change programming. The wellness program designed for Woodard & Curran employees was meant to help overcome some of those barriers.

Beginning in 2009, a wellness program to promote better physical fitness and diet was offered to Woodard & Curran’s 472 full-time employees (29 percent women and 71 percent men). Ages ranged from 22 to 68, with an average age of 43.

If they choose to do so, employees could complete a 26-question Personal Health Assessment (PHA) in 2009 and 2010 on nutrition, physical activity, health status, life satisfaction, sleep quality, smoking, demographics and seat belt use, and they were encouraged to participate in the wellness program.

To create their program, they brought in an outside company that specializes in employee wellness solutions called WellSteps. The program used was designed specifically for small to midsize companies that lack the resources to manage a wellness program. Employee representatives from Woodard & Curran voted on which initiatives they felt should be offered to all employees and selected the incentives that would be offered as part of the program.

Participants were given weekly tasks to complete during each of the following six behavior change campaigns, and each behavior change intervention lasted from three to eight weeks:

The Culprit and the Cure and the Fast Food Guide: Participants applied science-based healthy lifestyle principles from The Culprit and the Cure. Weekly tasks included reading and quizzes, watching brief videos, reviewing personal assessment results, setting behavior change goals, teaching friends or family key principles, and sharing the book with someone else at the end of the campaign. In addition, participants learned to use the Fast Food Guide to make healthy fast food choices. Weekly tasks included a reading and quiz, going out to eat with others and using the guide to make a healthy choice, practicing rating foods, and sharing the book with someone else at the end of the campaign.

Move It!: Participants competed with coworkers to engage in 30 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week for six weeks. Weekly tasks included watching a video on the benefits of exercise, logging steps or minutes of exercise, team meetings and team exercise.

Good Night: Participants made changes in their sleep habits, routine and environment to improve sleep quality. Weekly tasks included watching brief videos, assessing pre-sleep behaviors, setting sleep goals and schedules, modifying their sleep environment and keeping a sleep journal.

Maintain Don’t Gain: Participants applied strategies to manage caloric intake and to increase energy expenditure during the holidays. Weekly tasks included a weigh-in and applying behavioral strategy to manage weight.

Food Makeover: Participants modified their home environment by replacing unhealthy food with healthier options. Weekly tasks included watching brief videos, assessing and changing their food environment at home, applying healthy substitutions at the store, making and using a shopping list, and preparing healthy recipes.

Stress-Free: Participants learned to identify and manage stressors by applying simple strategies. Weekly tasks included watching brief videos, assessing common stressors, practicing a stress management technique, applying strategies to eliminate or reduce stressors, helping those in need and using humor.

Worksite Wellness Programs Can Work

Two hundred and seventy employees completed the Personal Health Assessment in 2009, and 175 of those (65 percent) also completed it in 2010. Of those who completed the PHA in 2009, 192 (71 percent) participated in the wellness program. Participants tended to be younger, and women were significantly more likely than men to complete the PHA and wellness program (67 percent versus 30 percent).

At the end of the program, each of the reported health behaviors had significantly improved:

  • Time and number of days spent exercising per week
  • Amount of whole grain, vegetables and fruit consumed
  • Nights of restful sleep
  • Seat belt use
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self-perceived health

The only health behavior that did not significantly improve was smoking, which started and remained very low. Additionally, BMI remained constant, but blood pressure significantly decreased among those who participated in the wellness program. In fact, those with borderline/high blood pressure decreased from 22 percent to 15 percent.

Interestingly, the one big negative was that job satisfaction decreased significantly during the course of the program. However, as the authors noted, 2009 was a tough year for the U.S. economy, and many companies had to lay off workers and/or reduce salaries.  This did not happen at Woodard & Curran, but the company was forced to reduce employee costs by slowing hiring, using more temporary workers and freezing salaries. And this may explain the decreased job satisfaction despite the fact that participants reported improved self-perceived health.

Join or Start a Worksite Wellness Program

If your employer already offers some type of wellness program, be sure to take full advantage of it. If they don’t, you could speak with your HR rep about getting one started or even recruit some fellow employees on your own.

You could use modified versions of the programs mentioned here or come up with your own plan. Just remember to have some fun with it to keep people interested in making healthy lifestyle choices, and don’t underestimate the power of incentives.

Here’s one example of a fun, incentive-based program you could try: Design a weight-loss competition based on the popular TV show, “The Biggest Loser.” Have everyone who is interested in playing donate a pre-determined amount to a joint fund. Set a specified time frame and do weigh-ins throughout the program. At the end of the competition, the person who has lost the biggest percentage of their body weight (as opposed to the most pounds to keep the playing field level) wins the money in the pot. It’s a great way to get your coworkers involved in a friendly competition that you can all benefit from.

[1] Merrill, R, et al. Effectiveness of a Worksite Wellness Program on Health Behaviors and Personal Health. JOEM. 2011;53:9;1,008-1,012.

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