Archive for the ‘Corporate wellness’ Category

A couple weeks ago at the Corporate Wellness Insights blog, Juliet expressed a possible conflict between companies’ efforts to reduce environmental impact and efforts for proactive employee health:

I worry that some of the funds used to create and implement these [environmental] programs might be taken away from other employee programs that encourage health, balanced lifestyle, and fitness.

She brought up Wal-Mart’s recent announcement to invest $500 million in sustainability and wondered how much of that might have been used for employee wellness. I think this is a legitimate concern, but I don’t think these two things have to be mutually exclusive.

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Coupled together, employee health and environmental sensitivity are mandatory pieces of any corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.

For instance, commuter challenges such as the BTA’s Bike Commute Challenge have the double benefit of reducing pollution and congestion caused by employees driving to work and of getting employee bodies moving. These types of jump-start efforts are extremely low cost to all involved. To keep employees riding, employers should jump in and provide facilities and incentives and maybe even create periodic competitions throughout the year.

Further, encouraging employees to be more active invariably gets them outside more, slowly increasing their appreciation for the value of open space and quality air. I may be pushing my luck a little here, but I think it’s a logical possibility. People whose outdoor engagement consists of walking from the garage door to the car and then from the car to the office door certainly don’t have the same experience as folks traveling through town by bike. Getting folks to add some more activity to their lives has the distinct probability of increasing their overall appreciation and value of their environment. Or at least that would be my hope!

It is only the most advanced employee health management programs that provide the facilities to help employees make the lifestyle changes required to transform their health, which might include gyms, clinics and various coaches and practitioners. However, even the most lightweight program can leverage the extensive resources available in the community to encourage physical activity, healthier eating and more environmentally-friendly living. I believe it can and should accomplish both goals of maximum health and minimum environmental impact.

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The idea of sharing the methodologies and technologies of employee health management programs with public health efforts outside of companies hit me as I wrote corporate wellness: beyond the corporation? I want to call it Open Source Health Management (not to be confused with open source health care software). Since then, I’ve tried to find out if this really is a “revolutionary possibility” or if it’s already happening somewhere.

The first thing I discovered is that this is a complex subject to search for! As with any internet search, the words you use in the search, the search engine and even the ordering of the words can affect the quality of what you find. In my not-so thorough search so far, I haven’t found much. If you search for “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and “public health,” you mostly get references to articles that refer to a company’s responsibility to not damage public health. For instance, you’ll find an article that talks about the Woburn, MA case where leukemia in children was linked to contaminated municipal wells [PDF]. I think it’s obvious that companies should not be a danger or detriment to the health of the communities in which they operate. The question is, should they take part in the proactive health of that community?

The Center for Corporate Citizenship (another term for CSR, further confounding research) includes in its definition of corporate citizenship the statement that companies should be participating voluntarily to help solve social problems (such as education, health, ….). Right! As far as I can tell so far, it’s not happening.

Although many companies are starting to go so far as hosting clinics for their employees, there doesn’t seem to be any effort to expand the pro-active, lightweight and very effective methods (dare I say, naturopathic?) of employee health management beyond employee populations. The key factor in motivating companies to participate in CSR-related efforts is that they get something back: brand recognition, profit, productivity or some other identifiable return. The increase in the “greening” of corporations is currently teetering between responsibility to not damage the environment (think of giant smoke stacks) to being pro-active in achieving a healthier planet (utilizing renewable materials and energy, for instance). Going for the latter, companies advertise and market their greenness, and evidence is showing that there’s value in doing so.

Now, we have two more questions: 1) would corporations gain in some way by contributing knowledge, effort and technology to improving community health and 2) how would they do it?

It would take some rigor to answer both questions, but at this point, I think it would be worth a look. However, I’m not encouraged by what I’ve found so far. The National Business Group on Health defines itself as “the national voice of large employers dedicated to finding innovative and forward-thinking solutions to the nation’s most important health care issues.” Reading on the site, it appears the main point of this group is to share methods between companies and to serve as a voice in our nation’s capital, including working to “Counter Employer Coverage Mandates.”

The Partnership for Prevention (dig that name) sounds more promising. The group’s goal is to “seek to increase investment in preventing disease and promoting health and to make prevention a national priority.” Unfortunately, this again looks mostly like an organization focussed on influencing political policy:

Working closely with the Congressional Prevention Caucus, a bipartisan caucus formed in 1998, Partnership raises the level of knowledge in Congress about prevention and identifies strategies that can lead to a healthier nation.

Is this the way real changes are going to happen, by informing Congress? I do think that getting prevention in the minds of policy makers and into the agenda is a good thing to do. But where’s the action? Am I asking too much?

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I ran into a great post today: 10 Big Lessons from Little Kids. I’d have to agree with Henrik of the Positivity Blog that #7 really jumps out of this list:

Your body was designed for throwing baseballs, shooting hoops, and jumping off diving boards and stuff. In the secret language of children, the word “fitness” doesn’t exist. It’s called “having fun.”

As I said before, “fitness” in some form or another has always been part of my life. I think it’s an important part of being a human being to make the most of this body. I’ve gotten flattering feedback from friends and colleagues that I influenced them to live healthier, more active lives. For me, the key keeping active, and heck, being happy in general, is to have fun doing it.

My favorite exercise is without question riding my bike, where I get out in the fresh air, see a variety of landscape and scenery, and have the opportunity to ride as easy or hard as I want. Sometimes I do go to the gym, but even there, I still enjoy it! That’s probably not a very popular idea. It seems most people who have a gym membership sign up with the hope that that will be motivation enough, but the fact that they don’t really enjoy that atmosphere overrides it and stops them from going. Gyms count on this behavior.

So why do big companies have gyms? My guess is that it’s the easiest type of facility to implement, and they likely get insurance rate discounts by having it. But maybe a gym is too elaborate. How about some frisbees? Or walking trails? Let people get creative. Again from the article:

Everything can be a game. Why slog through the same workout routines in boredom, when you can add a little fun?

Great point. What good is any routine if you’re not enjoying it? It won’t be much a routine for long if you stop doing it. Whatever exercise you do, keep the mission clear: have fun!

I love that statement. I ran across it when reading about Nike’s recent shoe designed specifically for Native Americans. The most surprising fact:

It will be distributed solely to American Indians; tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide will be able to purchase the shoe at wholesale price and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.

The company anticipates selling at least 10,000 pairs and raising $200,000 for tribal programs.

Talk about a commitment to creating more athletes!

You might argue that Nike doesn’t have a peerless history, but I think the overall impact of the company is positive. How many people have been inspired to get out there and “just do it,” to get outside and get active? Coupled with good nutrition, consistent physical activity is the best way to shape, strengthen, and vitalize your body. There’s simply no better way to prevent illness than to enliven the athlete in your body.

Apple Green

I love to see efforts like this that target neglected niches in the world of health and fitness. I’ve seen a similar trend happening in the world of cycling over the last few years. I’ve been an avid cyclist for years now, and I make it my preferred transportation option as often as I can. When folks ask me about what bike they should choose for their style of riding, I always make the same point: make sure the bike fits. No matter how nice the bike, you won’t ride it if it’s not comfortable. Once upon a time, you could either get a beach cruiser or road racing bike. Nowadays, there are a dizzying array of bicycle designs, and more importantly, there are bikes made specifically for women or folks who are BIG and tall. Better yet, the number of custom bike builders only increases over time, giving the customer complete control over the fit, handling and utility of their bike (check out Sweetpea Bicycles for instance, which makes bikes specifically for women here in Portland).

Wait, what about that title? If you have a body, you are an athlete. At some point in high school, I realized that I wanted to always be an athlete in body and mind. In other words, I wanted to get the absolute best about both aspects of my development. I hope that others see this in themselves, too. I think that each person has the ability to define what “athlete” means in their own life, and to take the steps required to become that athlete. Until someone develops a pill to mimic exercise, being comfortable in your shoes or on your bike is requisite for you to develop an activity routine.

So cheers to you Nike, for helping another neglected population get out there and just do it. I hope it is a rousing success and influences other companies to follow your lead.

Discovered via BHIC blog

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As I’ve delved into the world of corporate wellness, I’ve found that there a lot of words for it. So far, I’ve discovered:

And the list, no doubt, goes on.

Occupational health is probably the original place that the move towards corporate wellness started. As defined, occupational health focuses on workplace safety and therefore reducing and preventing anything that might be detrimental to the health of each employee. Over years, many companies have been able to build safety into corporate culture, therefore making it automatic. At my work, people call you out if you even motion to stand on a chair. My dad, who batches concrete, has to wear steel-toed boots even though he spends all day behind a computer. Many employees might whine about such measures being overbearing, but no one wins when an employee gets hurt at work: the worker loses income, the employer loses productivity and gains health cost, and the co-workers have to pick up the slack. The result of safety efforts, training and awareness campaigns is that employees pro-actively ensure workplace safety as a part of their job. I don’t think you could find a better measure of success than that.

As many companies experienced sterling safety records, they wondered what else they could do. The next logical step was to go beyond removing detriments to health and to help each employee achieve optimum health. Although a significant challenge, the quantifiable and uncountable benefits for the employee and the employer are immense. In addition, many factors are pushing employers in this direction. Although I’d like to believe that everyone wants to nourish their inner athlete, I know that the universal motivator for change is increasing: money. As health care costs rise at an accelerating pace, many companies are seeing their related expenditures rise into the billion$ and as a result, they are pushing those costs onto their employees. Besides that, the employer always loses when an employee misses work or cannot work at full speed due to illness. From their perspective, a healthy employee means a productive employee that brings their A-game to work on a consistent basis.

In the last decade or so, many companies have been able to create the culture of prevention that I’ve been talking about. However, we’re slow to see these effects spill into society as a whole. As companies help employees identify health risk factors, introduce healthy eating habits and provide better options in work cafes, and in some cases, provide facilities for fitness and physical activity, our health care dilemma only increases. Obesity, diabetes and cancer are marching strongly forward. Is it time that workplace wellness programs set bigger goals? Is this an avenue that the general health care community can use to achieve public health goals? Should public health encroach into corporate social responsibility?

This is a revolutionary possibility. Corporations have demonstrated that with a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, employees can take charge and improve their personal health. The question now is, how can the methodologies and technologies developed by corporations to create a successful culture of prevention be applied to a wider community?

In my mind, naturopathic medicine is one answer, at least on a smaller scale. By definition, naturopathic doctors work closely with each patient to identify the roadblocks to their ideal health, to correct the root cause of those roadblocks by tapping into the patient’s innate ability to heal, and to move into a state of prevention and education about healthy living. Corporate wellness programs seek to do exactly the same thing.

In the end, maybe there’s a partnership here that can happen. While naturopaths can provide the knowledge and techniques to make preventive, holistic health the norm, the corporations can provide expertise and information technology to apply it on a bigger scale. Although corporations might see their successful wellness programs as strategic advantages to attracting the best and brightest, they could also realize that these programs could be applied to become a transformative force and asset to the health of the communities in which they operate. Although there might exist a number of preconceptions on both sides of this partnership, I think a lot could be learned with open discussion and debate.

To conclude the series of ideas to apply a naturopathic approach to corporate wellness, I’ll tackle the sixth and final principle of naturopathy: prevention. The naturopathic physician recognizes the fact that the goal of healthcare is not only treatment of disease, but ultimately the prevention of disease. To meet this goal, the naturopath works with each patient to maximize their health through education and the promotion of health-building habits.

In my approach to corporate wellness, all the previous principles I have applied have been shaped to help the employee achieve proactive wellness through prevention. The process flow now looks like this:

  • employee clarifies their personal health goals
  • employee realizes they hold the power and responsibility to reach those goals
  • the program works with the employee to identify the root cause of what is hindering them from reaching their goals
  • the program helps the employee take a 360-degree view of their internal and external health, to reach their goals in totality
  • the program empowers the employee with knowledge and strategies to make their goals happen
  • celebrate and share success! and now reset goals and continue the process again

This process positions the employee population to take charge of their health and foster a culture of prevention. Imagine a workplace where folks talked about how good they feel as opposed to how much they’re paying for prescriptions and how tired they are all the time. Obviously the workplace itself can attribute to such negativity, but if employees have already taken charge of their health, they’ll be that much more able and motivated to take charge of their work and the shape of their company. I don’t know about you, but I want to work with that workforce!