By Mona Shulman, Pacific Coast Producers

Health statistics rank San Joaquin County as the third worst in the state for potential chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The Healthy Lodi Initiative is specifically asking Lodi’s employers to consider implementing employee healthy-lifestyle programs to help turn this statistic around.

Much has been written about the effectiveness of workplace wellness plans, and some of it conflicting. The Rand Corp in 2014 concluded that targeting only employees at high-risk of chronic disease reduced health care claims. On the other hand, General Motors in 2004 found that moderately active and very active employees had lower annual paid health care costs than inactive employees.

With all the conflicting information, an employer must decide what tools work best for their own workforce and budget.  Employers wanting to implement a successful workplace health initiative should follow these steps:

Wellness programs should be promoted by the company’s leadership

No matter what the result of the study, it seems clear that the decision to implement a wellness program must begin with the leadership, and that commitment must be real in order for any program to be effective. That means the company’s leaders must actively promote and encourage a culture of health at their workplace, including taking advantage of community resources and partnerships to support healthy lifestyles.

Know your employees

To be most effective, an employer must understand their employee population as a whole.  An agricultural employee will have different challenges and risks than an office employee, and the same program will not work for both.   We must understand the jobs our employees perform and how their tasks do or do not contribute to healthy habits. A program should be designed that fits the specific needs of our own workforce.

Assess your workforce

A health assessment survey is a good tool to get started in evaluating your employees’ specific needs. Employers can conduct an assessment of their company to determine where opportunities and barriers exist.  There are several assessment tools, including:

  • The Workplace Health Professionals Alliance - its Health Improvement Care assessment gives individuals an idea of how healthy their habits are.
  • The Center for Disease Control - its Workplace Health Promotion website (https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/initiatives/index.html) offers a variety of tools to assess your workplace. The CDC also has a Worksite Health Scorecard for employers to assess how they are doing on health promotion. Not only does this assessment seek to determine what employers are doing, it also offers insight into many options for employers to consider.
  • The California Department of Public Health also offers a Fit Business Kit with an assessment, and framework for putting together a program - https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DEODC/OHB/Pages/OHB.aspx.

There are barriers outside of surveys as well. Does your employee demographic include cultures that are not inclined to regularly visit their physician, if they even have one? Is language an issue? Are there providers that speak the language of the employee? Are there healthy options for cooking the type of ethnic food that the employee eats at home?  All of these are relevant factors to consider in designing your plan to make it most effective.

Decide on a workplace program format

Once an assessment is completed, and you have a better idea of your needs and tools, there are many types of programs to choose from. Here are some ideas:

  • Self-Initiated Educational Programs - The simplest for employees are educational programs that deliver health-related information. These programs rely on employee initiative to seek out or read information and maintain their own interest in the program. This works well for those who are already attuned to healthy behaviors or wanting to become healthier.
  • Community and Social Participation - A program that is designed to foster community participation, and therefore healthier feelings of belonging and connection to community, include sports-related teams, clubs, interest groups and other community activities that can be encouraged by the employer.  This not only improves social connections, but also encourages physical activities.
  • Employer-Supported Programs - Employers can also motivate healthy lifestyle improvements. In this type of program, the employer provides changes in the workplace. Some examples are providing healthy food (and removing unhealthy food); subsidizing gym memberships; creating walking trails; holding walking meetings; or offering yoga classes. More targeted programs can include preventive care, such as screenings and biometric assessments.  These programs have the advantage of detecting risk early, and helping employees manage their conditions, usually with the assistance of the employee’s health care provider. Some employers have become even more active and promote disease management programs.  Where employees have significant health problems, healthcare professionals and counselors actively monitor and manage the employees’ treatment. Often, these programs can be implemented with the employer’s health insurance company.

  • Employee Incentives - The question remains, what is it that will motivate the employee to improve their health and lifestyle?  Financial incentives can lead to improvement based on a specific target. For example, an employee could earn $100 for losing 40 pounds or walking 30 miles in 30 days. Employee incentive offers, however, may not work for a long-term change of lifestyle.  In short, the employee must decide that the change in behavior is beneficial to them.

Above all, in order to be successful, an employer should choose a program that addresses negative behaviors and lifestyle choices they’ve identified through assessments. There should be active encouragement, and no negative consequences to the employee’s participation.  Organizational leadership should express support for employees engaged in wellness activities and recognize participant’s progress toward personal goals.

The Healthy Lodi Initiative Team will be compiling local resources, and helping to connect employers with tools to work toward improvement.  We hope that you join us for the health of us all! For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit the website: http://www.healthylodi.com or call the Chamber at 209-367-7840.