Worksite wellness: best practices from N.H.'s largest employer
Editor's note: This series of articles follows the progress, challenges and successes of businesses and other organizations in New Hampshire as they implement workplace wellness programs.Workplace wellness programs are emerging in organizations throughout the state in an effort to stabilize health care costs and increase overall health and well-being of employees. The state of New Hampshire - the state's largest employer - is no exception.In 2006, Gov. John Lynch signed "an order relative to state employee wellness," which included programs that encourage a proactive approach to the health of its employees.Over the past three years, participation in the state's wellness program has more than doubled. In 2007, when the state first offered employees a health assessment tool, approximately 20 percent participated, and in 2010 that number was up to 52 percent, or about 6,000 state employees.According to Michael Loomis, wellness program specialist for the state employee wellness program, there are many factors involved in creating a successful wellness program, including: designing programs to meet the needs of employees; having a team approach; working in collaboration with other organizations to take advantage of best practices and available resources; and educating employees about the benefits.Designing a program"Because state employees work in 40 different agencies, it is like managing workplace wellness programs for 40 different businesses," says Loomis. "Agencies may have anywhere from 10 to over 1,000 employees, with single or multiple locations throughout the state. We take into consideration the needs and interests of each agency's employees to create a variety of programs."Feedback and recommendations from both employees and managers help Loomis tailor the state's wellness program and initiate policy changes. Recent leadership and employee surveys from 23 of the state's agencies indicated that employees are most interested in programs that address nutrition, weight management and stress management. Managers indicated that they wanted to boost morale, reduce sick leave and control costs. Healthy food service options, tobacco-free campuses, and policies for stress management were also of interest, according to the surveys.While the wellness team helps establish programs and policies, wellness coordinators at nearly all the different agencies help disseminate information and engage employees."The reason for teamwork is clear regarding any major project or program," says Loomis. "Indeed, history is replete with stories of companies whose programs have failed because they appointed full responsibility for the initiative to one individual. Involving other key members of the state in the wellness program is important."The state wellness program utilizes best practices and resources available through various organizations. Some of its partners and resources include Wellness Councils of America, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Health and Human Services and Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL NH).The state's health benefits program vendors also help provide resources and expertise.Lisa Marzoli of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire, a full-time wellness coordinator for the state, works closely with the state's wellness team to provide resources, support and wellness benefits."I try to tie in all the resources that are available and share best practices with the wellness team so we can implement new programs and encourage more state employees and their families to make healthy choices," she says.Education and communicationAccording to Loomis, it has been important to continuously communicate the concept of wellness to employees, especially those that have reached the age of recommended, potentially lifesaving, screenings, such as colonoscopy or mammograms. Early utilization of preventive medical services that are made available to employees at no cost can help prevent or detect life-threatening disease, he says."We are working on overcoming the notion that the absence of disease symptoms isn't necessarily the absence of disease, by communicating the importance of health screenings. Agency commissioners are even contributing in wellness communication by championing and challenging employees to wellness including annual check ups, physical activity, and tobacco cessation" says Loomis.Anthem's Marzoli also emphasizes the importance of educating employees about the wellness benefits available to them: "They won't use the benefits unless they know they exist. In my 20-year history of working with various organizations, I've learned that employers must communicate continually and in multiple venues to reach all employees. One broad communication is not effective."If your business is considering a workplace wellness program, Loomis advises: "This is a well-documented business practice. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, because there are so many tools and resources out there. Just be sure that you find out what your employees needs are and take a strategic approach to the program."Terry Johnson is director of HEAL NH. For more information and resources for businesses starting a workplace wellness program, contact him at 603-415-4273 or TJohnson@healthynh.com.