The changing priority of wellness

Where would you rather spend the majority of your resources – in wellness and prevention or in sick care? Which do you think would serve you better?These questions are designed to be eye-openers in the discussion that is thankfully moving more and more into the forefront. In reality and from the perspective of employees, employers and solopreneurs, we need both.Historically, however, the majority of our resources has gone to sick care. Demonstrating the value of preventive services and wellness programs has become somewhat easier as it comes to light how expensive dealing with illness really is from a multitude of costs.These include medical claims, lost productivity, negative impacts on co-workers and the compromised quality of life of the ill employee. But as in most things, the status quo has a history and investment, so it takes time to make shifts.Earlier this month, a couple of noteworthy groups came together to discuss the topic of workplace wellness both at the Center for Health Promotion’s Wellness Coordinators Meeting in Concord and at the NHBR Health Care Forum presented by MVP Health Care in Manchester.A common goal of each was to communicate what organizations are doing to promote wellness along with what resources exist to help a workplace move forward in creating a healthier culture.Panelists at both events were either people who knew firsthand because of the specific initiatives and programming that have been launched at their organizations or health promotion experts who have the unique perspective of being in the know about what is happening (and working) all over the state.Large and small employers

One key in regard to what is working that was echoed across both meetings is to have true and full commitment from the top.Senior leadership can help mobilize wellness initiatives, not only by allocating fiscal and human resources but also in endorsing wellness policies publicly and in modeling healthy living themselves.The influence of seeing a senior manager join an on-site yoga class is quite powerful. Similarly, having employees at all levels of leadership actively modeling healthy behaviors, such as eating fruit and using break time to go for a walk, is also an elemental piece to improving the health-related behavior of all employees.Another theme that arose at both events was the greater likelihood of success when the resources to choose healthy behaviors are easily accessible to employees.For instance, shifting to food options (via vending machines, cafeterias and meeting snacks) that are high in taste and nutrition while lower in fat, sugar, salt and additives helps people to actually make the connection in how their daily choices impacts their health. It stops being just a something that sounds good in theory – instead, a person can directly experience the increased focus and energy they feel after a lunch that actually provides nourishment.As many of the largest employers across the state provide models and lessons of how to implement wellness programs, an issue that has become clear is how small and micro-businesses can create healthier worksites and thus bring down costs associated with sick care as well.Within a smaller organization, a few people can exert greater influence. For instance, at a company with eight employees, each person could be asked to introduce one healthy behavior they could see themselves and fellow co-workers giving a try.From a general standpoint, however, organizations of all sizes need to begin with assessing their needs and capabilities.Specifically, a recommended starting point is to determine what the current status is in regard to stress management, tobacco/alcohol/drug use, safety, nutrition, work/life balance, physical activity, managerial/senior executive buy-in, accessibility to benefits and general work environment. Matching assessed needs with what employees want and are willing to participate in helps steer the process.Offering incentives can also help jump-start and sustain a wellness program.Discussion of the implementation of workplace wellness (and beyond) will continue, both formally and informally. With that there is the clear intention for New Hampshire to gain in its awareness, knowledge and ability to become a healthier place to live and work.Debra LeClair, a psychologist and consultant who has worked in the fields of workplace wellness, behavioral change and work/life coaching, is co-founder of Full Spectrum Wellness, Manchester. She can be reached