Wellness programs and productivity

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.Pemi-Baker Community Health in Plymouth started implementing a workplace wellness program in 2009. Like many businesses that begin implementing these programs, Pemi-Baker focused on wellness resources provided by its health insurance provider.But Pemi-Baker soon recognized the importance of providing a supportive environment to help employees make healthy choices. The organization opened its existing aquatics and fitness center to the 32 or so employees to encourage more physical activity, served healthy food at staff meetings, and provided flex time to promote exercise during the workday. In addition, policy and environmental changes were augmented by featuring motivational messages and educational materials each month addressing healthy eating, physical activity and morale.Late last year, Pemi-Baker decided to formalize the program and increase employee participation. In April, it was presented with the opportunity to participate in a pilot project that offered a free employee worksite wellness survey. The results reaffirmed Pemi-Baker’s commitment to workplace wellness and led to several employee-driven changes to the program.”I don’t think we realized how much we were already doing around workplace wellness until we took the survey,” said Chandra Engelbert, executive director of Pemi-Baker. “The survey also helped us reach out to everyone and get feedback. We now want to use that data to take the program to the next level and include the community.”Engelbert explained that, in addition to its focus on employee health and wellness, the organization wants to support efforts to create a healthy community beyond its campus, by working collaboratively with community partners and offering more services to the public.Not only did the survey help increase employee interest in worksite wellness, it helped validate why the program was so important to the culture and goals of the organization. The survey indicated that over 95 percent of employees believe that good nutrition and regular physical activity contribute to better productivity at work.Helps with moraleThe data also indicated the issues that were of most interest to employees and the direction the organization’s wellness initiative needed to take. For instance, fitness classes, stress reduction and weight management were tied for first place when asked what employees would be interested in if offered through the worksite. Nearly 50 percent of survey participants also indicated that they would be interested in informal walking groups.In response to the survey feedback, Pemi-Baker began engaging co-workers to help plan some changes to the worksite environment. Pemi-Baker is now working on creating a map of campus walking routes, and will potentially expand it to a community walking map. It also has reached out to the neighboring property owner to ask if it can create a nature trail with paths through the woods. Initial approval from the neighbor was given, and the organization is currently trying to get a mini-grant to construct the paths.”It’s about providing a healthy environment, not only with healthy food choices and access to physical activity, but also emotional wellness,” said Engelbert. “By having our employees tell us what they want in the wellness program and the flexibility to engage in physical activity during the workday, it gives them control and helps with morale.”Engelbert also noted that when someone is having a particularly challenging day, Pemi-Baker’s “morale coordinator,” Bear, a five-pound mixed breed dog, “makes people smile.”The survey of employees was a pilot project conducted in partnership with HEAL NH at the Foundation for Healthy Communities, the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Community Health Institute, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire and the Foundation for Healthy Communities.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.