3 Questions Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2009

Gerald Cleveland, director of employee health promotion for the department of human resources and associate faculty with the department of preventive medicine and community health at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, initiated employee health promotion programs at the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1992. The focus of the programs and services offered has grown over the years and now includes disease management, staged and behaviorally based interventions, departmental initiatives, fitness facility management, and consultation.

Q. What can employers do to encourage their employees to engage in healthier lifestyles?

Encourage movement and facilitate an environment that is supportive of integrating movement into the daily routine. You can create walking paths in and around the buildings of the campus, encourage taking the stairs instead of the elevator and exercise at your desk, good ergonomics training, sponsored fitness groups, and company-sponsored events. Additionally, healthy eating options should be available in cafeterias and vending machines.

Q. What are some effective ways that employers can improve their employees’ health while also lowering their costs and improving the productivity of workers?

There have been several best-practice benchmark studies over the last decade. The common themes within the best practices include strong organizational or leadership commitment and buy-in for health promotion/wellness programs. Without top-level support, the program will never get off the ground, but without commitment throughout the organizational ladder, the program will never have lasting power or produce the desired results.

Q. What are the steps a company should take in creating a wellness program or to promote health with their employees?

First, an employer needs to create a wellness champion structure — this creates the grassroots support any program must have to be sustained. The champion’s team should be comprised of individuals from all levels of the organization with equal levels of responsibility. A multifaceted communication plan needs to be in place. Communicate often and through a variety of modalities. Having healthy employees should be an integral part of the business strategy. If you have a dedicated staff to develop, coordinate and monitor health promotion/wellness activities, you will see results that include more productivity, better morale, less days off due to illness and better long-term health care rates.