Promoting Employee Health and Wellness
Creating a Program that Works


Sandra Magliacani Shern, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Aug 20, 2009

With skyrocketing health care costs, aging American workers and the high cost of absenteeism, prudent employers are turning to health and wellness programs for relief. Regardless of the size of the organization, there are ways that an employer can promote health and wellness and get a return on their investment. While employed as a Human Resource Director and Employee Assistance Professional, I have found that using old fashioned behavioral techniques work best when implementing employee promotional programs. In other words, using positive reinforcements to entice workers will help turn a mediocre program into one that is well utilized.
The first step in creating a wellness program is to determine the basics such as budget, mission and vision for the program, and availability of space (if applicable) for providing health and wellness equipment. After the details have been worked out and there is buy-in at the top levels of the organization then an employee committee can be developed for input.

The employee committee along with an employee relations person can survey employees to determine the needs of the organization. If employees are willing to do health screenings prior to the development of the program, the information gathered can be helpful to determine the higher level needs of the organization. This can be beneficial as a way to work towards reducing health care costs longer term. Doing all of preliminary work is important to lay the foundation for a successful program. By getting input from high level executives to front line workers everyone in the organization feels more ownership over the program. This in itself increases participation in all employee relations programs.

Armed with what the participants are seeking in the program, it is also important to ensure that the health and wellness programs include assistance with high cost problems such as obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, alcoholism and drug abuse. There may be an overlap with an Employee Assistance Program which can be included as part of the health and wellness program.

Prior to rolling out the health and wellness program, consider how and when it will be introduced. As with any employee program, communication is a critical element to a program being well received by its users. Evaluate how the employee base best receives information. Often it is helpful for the high level executives to introduce the program at a company wide meeting. From there, the HR department and employee committee can continually educate and inform the employees as to how the program works. Having "wellness mentors" in the organization can also be helpful to promote the program. These employee volunteers can make a big impact in communicating the program and informally educating colleagues as to how the program operates. They may act as a cheerleader for health and wellness. After the program takes off, use success stories to promote the program, such as an employee who lost weight on a company sponsored program.

The essence of a health and wellness program is to promote the individual employee's ability to maintain their mental and physical well being. Some of the low cost offerings that I would suggest and that employees seem to receive well are as follows:

Ongoing Wellness Screenings
Discounts to gyms or personal trainers and flextime to work out
Walking clubs and programs during lunchtime, showers if possible
Smoking cessation programs
Smoke free workplace policy
Weekly seminars on wellness during lunchtime (provide healthy snacks if possible)
Weight loss support groups in-house
Company sponsored sports leagues
Health fairs
Bike racks/walking trails
Vending machines with healthy food options
Wellness newsletter
Discounts on massage, or chair massage available at the company
Yoga classes in-house

Most of these are low cost and can be implemented fairly easily, Health and wellness programs are likely to be utilized if there is a saturation in the organization around health promotion. Providing one or two services is spotty, and may not become a part of the organizational culture. Work on changing the environment to one that is highly focused on healthy habits.

Going back to the idea of incentives, this is helpful to gain participation in the program. Depending on your budget, giving prizes for filling out a health screening can be helpful. Even better is to give a bigger incentive to those who follow up on any of the problem areas found on the assessment. On a larger scale, a company can offer "bonuses" or points that can be turned into cash towards health care premiums depending on the employee's level of participation in the health and wellness program.. Evaluate what your employees respond to best with regard to incentives. Look at longer term incentives rather then short term. Additionally, employee recognition goes a long way in demonstrating the importance of health and wellness to the company culture.

Health related problems and rising health care costs truly impacts the bottom line of an organization. Many companies are finding that health and wellness promotion can make an impact on the wellbeing of employees as well as the overall health of the organization. Developing the program carefully, having management and employee support, and offering incentives will position the program to be successful long term.

Published by Sandra Magliacani Shern

Why can relationships be so difficult?
By Sandra Magiacani-Shern

Often in a marriage counseling session, one or both spouses will give me an eye roll when I ask about their childhood. We live in a society where everything moves quickly and most of us want to go forward, not backward. Yet our unconscious mind does not agree with this present day mindset. That is why relationship counseling can be difficult; we have to go backwards and tolerate discomfort.

Our minds are set up to attract what is familiar and then we act upon this familiarity. In a typical day, we repeat many of the same behaviors, patterns and routines solely due to the familiarity. For instance, if passing a new grocery store, would you be more likely to go to the new grocery store or continue on to the one you go to normally? We feel comfort in repeating the past, because it is what we know.

The key to breaking free of unhealthy relationship patterns is to become aware of what is going on unconsciously. These are the old patterns developed in childhood. This could relate to how your parents behaved together and what you unconsciously perceive as a "normal" relationship by observing them. It could be the way you interacted with each parent and the family dynamics. Even the way you related to a sibling can sometimes be relevant. The bottom line is that your behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs about how to interact with those closest to you were established first in childhood.

The good news is that by simple awareness these patterns can be altered. Being willing to do the work is a necessary part of relationship counseling. Realizing that your partner has also come into the relationship with his or her own patterns and being curious about them is another essential key to success.

Relationships can be difficult because we attract someone who fits with us, in both positive and negative ways. If you find a partner who is also willing to do the work and help to alter the co-existing patterns within the relationship, the relationship can heal.
Whether you are in a relationship that needs improvement or are single and want to attract a healthy relationship, the essential key is to do self-examination.