What’s your workplace like? Are co-workers generally kind and considerate to one another, with managers willing to listen and striving to make it easier for everyone to do his or her job? Are co-workers confident they’ll be heard if they talk about workplace concerns or suggest ways to improve the organization? Or is it the kind where everyone has too much work to do? They’re dependent on others to get them what they need—but with little control over making that happen. Then, when they manage to get the job done, do they feel unappreciated and poorly compensated?
Trying to get employees to exercise more, eat healthier foods and stop smoking may be lost causes if the second scenario describes your workplace. And if an organization’s leaders think a vendor and/or gadgets can achieve a healthy workforce within a toxic work environment, wellness efforts may be doomed to fail.
The biggest bang for your employer’s wellness buck may instead come from changing the workplace culture, suggests Joel Bennett, Ph.D., in a Q&A in the June issue of Benefits Magazine. Bennett is a wellness researcher who founded and leads Organizational Wellness & Learning Systems Inc. (OWLS), which develops, delivers and evaluates programs intended to improve health, teamwork and leadership in an organization. The National Wellness Institute sponsored Bennett to speak at the International Foundation’s Health Benefits Conference & Expo in January.
Bennett is a proponent of analyzing a workplace and its culture, as well as its medical claims, then using and adapting evidence-based programs to tackle specific challenges. He’s not a fan of what he calls the commoditization of wellness—the proliferation of new gadgets and vendors claiming they have the newest, best ways to get workers healthier.
[Related: Wellness Done Right—Resources to help employers focus on total well-being.]
Stress is a root cause of many unhealthy behaviors—overeating, smoking, substance abuse, failure to get enough sleep—as well as depression and anxiety. So one aspect of developing a healthy workplace culture involves identifying the reasons for stress in a particular workplace and then figuring out ways to alleviate or at least help workers manage stress.
Each workplace culture is unique. Bennett cited two interesting groups he has worked with and researched—police communications workers and young restaurant workers. Police dispatchers have a job that is both very stressful and sedentary. They often work in spaces with poor air quality, such as a basement. Restaurant workers tend to be young and at high risk for substance abuse and behavioral health problems. Their employers may not feel much responsibility for their long-term health.
[Related: Benefit Bits Video | Evidence-Based Medicine]
Wellness initiatives for each group should take a different tack. The police communication workers might benefit from stretch breaks, qigong or tai chi and environmental improvements. Young restaurant workers might be happier if their managers were taught to use a different, more caring approach to communicate with them.
Is your workplace healthy? What might make it an even happier place to work? How might that ultimately affect the health of your co-workers?
Chris Vogel, CEBS
Senior Editor—Publications at the International Foundation