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Workplace wellness is a way to solve a lot of problems before they even come up

Coping with issues such as absenteeism, sick leave and workers’ comp can quickly start to resemble a hopeless game of whack-a-mole: as soon as you try to deal with one, two or three others pop up.

That’s where concept of “workplace wellness” comes in. It’s basically a change in thinking when it comes to dealing with the whole range of “negatives” in human resources management. These familiar issues include the following:

  • absenteeism and sick leave,
  • morale issues,
  • accidents, injuries and workers’ comp costs,
  • productivity and quality issues,
  • employee retention,
  • workplace stress,
  • substance abuse,
  • employee health, and
  • lack of overall employee job satisfaction.

Workplace wellness looks at these issues as symptoms that can all be mitigated – some of them solved outright – by an overall approach that builds a healthy workplace, and heads off the development of any of those symptoms before they ever take shape.

Easier said than done? Not at all. You just have to build a program that you can believe in, that you will be happy to be a part of yourself, and that makes sense for your people in your workplace.

  • Healthy diet: promotion of healthy diets; leading by example in the cafeteria with healthy choices offered every day; elimination or downplaying of pop, chips and other junk foods in vending machines; diet counseling information and services.
  • Smoking cessation: support, information and encouragement for those wanting to quit smoking.
  • Weight loss support: information, referrals, counseling for weight loss; support groups.
  • Workstation ergonomics: professional assessment of workstations and work processes; sit-stand work routines; education.
  • Fitness programs: workout groups, subsidized gym membership, fitness promotion.
  • Vaccination programs: providing flu shots in the workplace.
  • Information/education sessions: seminars, lunch-and-learns, information websites.
  • Work-life balance: programs to encourage balance and perspective; things like “no-email” times in the evenings and weekends.
  • Employee assistance plan (EAP) promotion: sending the message about what the EAP can do to help with life issues, substance abuse, and mental health problems.

Many successful programs started out with a few basics to address particular issues relevant to the workplace in question, and then gradually expanded as they built on a growing comfort level in the workplace.

Experts in the field tend to agree on the following basic elements for building a great workplace wellness program:

  1. Set up a working group representative of the entire workplace to lead and manage the program.
  2. Set specific, measurable goals and objectives. Include benchmarks to work toward along the way.
  3. Have your working group coordinate with your benefits provider, or consultants, to build your program and to ensure that it is tailor made for the needs and circumstances of your workplace.
  4. Track the progress and results. Benefits providers (and others) can provide software to track things like costs, absenteeism, sick leave and injury reports.
  5. Demonstrate top-level management support and leadership for the program.
  6. Continuously promote the program through employee communications, workplace intranets, displays and posters, newsletters and reports of progress at all corporate events.

Workplace wellness, as a concept, is basically a change in thinking – from dealing with a list of individual negatives, to building one large positive: a well workplace. It’s a good way to deal with a range of human resources issues, but it’s also, quite simply, just the right thing to do.

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