Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Healthy Choices

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Healthy Choices

Article excerpt

Learn how to identify the health promotion needs in your company and develop a cost-effective wellness program.

Jane Miller has a greater appreciation for her company's health promotion program these days. That's because at Pennsylvania Blue Shield's annual health fair sponsored by the company's wellness program, which Miller oversees, she participated in a screening for osteoporosis. In her 30s, Miller is hardly considered at high risk for the disease, which is why she was surprised when the test indicated her body was verging on osteoporosis.

The good news is Miller went to see her doctor and, using a nutrition plan, has been able to reverse the effects of the disease. She is glad she found out about her condition in time to do something about it. "If it wasn't for the screening, I never would have known."

Why Wellness at Work?

Prevention and early detection, as in Miller's case, are two of the many reasons for a company to institute a wellness program, according to Kim Gladstone, MA, RN, ARM, director of the Well Aware health promotion program for BJC Health Systems in St. Louis.

"Another reason is because we have the time when we're at work," Gladstone explained. "People don't have time once they get home. They have every excuse not to do wellness stuff." Convenience is another factor. "It's easy for the employee to do wellness at work," she said.

Gladstone also cited the economies of scale. "It's a lot cheaper to do 200 cholesterol checks at once than to bring in people one at a time at the doctor's."

Perhaps most compelling are risks employers could subject themselves to by not instituting a wellness program. "Injuries, infectious diseases, high absenteeism, low productivity, high turnover and low morale - these are all things that wellness programs work to prevent," Gladstone said.

Getting Started

"We try to get people to look at it as a business case," said Shelley Farnell, senior health education consultant for Capital Blue Cross in Harrisburg, Pa. According to Farnell, the most successful health promotion programs are those that are well-thought out before any actual dollars are invested. "Even if you have a minimal budget but a decent amount of time invested, any company in the world is going to want to see a return on that investment or at least cost-effective methods of spending that money or time," she said.

Farnell advised forming a committee that includes personnel from different areas of a company to oversee and provide input for the program. Pennsylvania Blue Shield's Miller, whose program serves 6,000 employees at the Harrisburg company, urged including employees at all levels, not simply representatives from management. "It needs to include people who are actually doing the work because these are the people you want to target the program to," she said.

Miller suggested including on the committee a cross section of employees you hope to target through the wellness program. "If you want to have a smoking cessation program, you might want to include on your committee people who smoke. These people can tell you how to get to the smokers. Get people who you want to affect through the program."

Gain Management Support

A key to the success of Pennsylvania Blue Shield's wellness program was management support from the start. "Before you do anything, you've got to have at least one or two advocates in management," Miller maintained.

Unfortunately, getting management to support a program is much easier said than done. "Just like other aspects of business, wellness is very bottom-line driven because most companies don't have money to burn," Farnell said. To gain management support, she suggested presenting a wellness program as an investment. "By coming up with a business plan, management sees that you've thought it through clearly."

Identify Your Company's Needs

Once you decide to develop a wellness program, the next step is to identify your company's needs. …

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