Is Your Workplace Wellness Program Multiculturally Competent?

In her article “Creating a Multiculturally Competent Worksite Wellness Program: The Why and the How” in the June issue of Benefits Magazine, author Linda Howard explains that multicultural competency is a core ingredient in a program’s ability to reach employees suffering from chronic disease. It also makes good business sense and helps programs stay in legal and regulatory compliance.

Howard, who is chief executive officer of Alturnative, a Baltimore, Maryland health care compliance consultancy, writes that multicultural competence in the workplace combines operational effectiveness with:

  • Cultural knowledge—Knowledge about cultural characteristics, values, beliefs, worldviews, history, behaviors and social mores of another cultural group
  • Cultural awareness—Understanding cultural differences and being aware of different cultural values, beliefs and worldviews
  • Cultural sensitivity—Being aware that cultural differences and similarities exist without assigning values such as positive or negative, better or worse, or right or wrong to those differences.
Is Your Workplace Wellness Program Multiculturally Competent?

Howard offers the following six strategies for achieving multicultural competency in your wellness program:

1. Expand your definition of diversity and cultural groups.

If your organization has not done so already, expand its definition of diversity and cultural groups beyond factors like age, ethnicity and gender to include others such as cognitive diversity, disability, life experience, personality and more.

2. Design ways to address diversity considerations.

For example, recognize and address linguistic differences by providing wellness information in Spanish to reach Spanish-speaking employees. Make accommodations for people with disabilities, and consider employees’ socioeconomic status.

3.Identify helpful tools.

There are publicly available tools, including the National Wellness Institute’s Multicultural Wellness Wheel, that may help you expand your definition of culture and how to integrate it into worksite wellness programs.

4. Create an overall multiculturally competent workplace.

Think beyond the program itself. You will undermine your efforts if your workplace is not a healthy environment. Efforts can include hiring a diverse workforce, establishing a multicultural competence committee, and creating and adopting policies and procedures that reinforce multicultural competency.

5.Assess and train your wellness team to be multiculturally competent.

Multicultural competency is a skill that must be learned. Employees should be trained and regularly assessed. Multicultural competency training is about developing awareness, sensitivity and knowledge. It helps people develop the tools to enable them to gain more insight into cultural values and deliver culturally competent responses and services that integrate differences into the overall system.

6.Evaluate your wellness program by multicultural competency standards.

Evaluate whether your program is multiculturally competent by looking at its effectiveness across cultures. A consultant may be able to help with this process. Secondly, you should evaluate your program’s compliance with laws designed to eliminate discrimination and promote inclusion in programs. You will probably want to enlist the help of your compliance or legal teams.

[Related Reading: Adding Magic to Your Workplace Wellness Program]

Learn More About Multiculturally Competent Wellness Programs

These programs can make good business sense and help to comply with regulatory standards, but Howard contends that organizations should make sure their wellness programs are multiculturally competent simply because it makes them more effective. “Given today’s diversity in the workforce, a standardized program cannot accommodate and effectively address the preferences and needs of large segments of the workforce. These types of programs will likely have lower participation and achieve less than optimal results,” Howard writes.

Members can read the full article, “Creating a Multiculturally Competent Worksite Wellness Program: The Why and the How,” in the June issue of Benefits Magazine.

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications, at the International Foundation


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Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS

Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation Favorite Foundation Product: The Foundation magazines: Benefits Magazine and Plans & Trusts Benefits Related Topics That Interest Her Most: Financial literacy, health and wellness programs Favorite Foundation Conference Moment: Hearing attendees sing “O, Canada” at Canadian Annual in addition to hearing the anthem sung in both French and English. Personal Insight: Whether she’s collecting information for a magazine story or hanging out with her family and friends, you know Kathy is fully engaged. Her listening ear and introspective nature provide reassuring presence to those enjoying her company.

1 Comment

  1. David Norriss

    I love the idea you gave to train your wellness team to be multiculturally competent. I think if more businesses put emphasis on this factor then there would be less multicultural problems going on the world. Everyone has to work and if people don’t feel like their being treated appropriately because of their culture then that could have lasting effects on them in their personal lives too.

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