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Health and Wellness in the Workplace

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Health and Wellness in the Workplace
Sandra Whitman
Introduction to Research and Information Utilization
Mr. Charles F. Millhollan
March 29, 2005

Abstract
Health and wellness in the workplace plays a vital role in a companies’ ability to not only keep their employees healthy, but also to keep the costs of absenteeism and health-care down. The most important asset to a company is not only their clients, but their employees. Companies are investing not only in their employees’ wellness, but also in their safety and fitness as well. In an effort to keep their employees healthy physically and psychologically, companies are incorporating employee-wellness programs into their work environment to ensure their employees maintain healthy lives. This research paper will focus not only on the physical impact that unhealthy workplaces have on employees but what different companies are doing to promote long-term wellness.

Health and Wellness in the Workplace Employers are faced not only with soaring costs of health-care but also with the rising costs of employee absenteeism, and they are reevaluating what used to be purely a personal matter for workers (Kaplan-Leiserson, 2004). In a study conducted during the years 2000 – 2002, the rates of absenteeism remained essentially stable--2.1 percent in 2000, 2.2 percent in 2001, and 2.1 percent in 2002; the costs of paid unscheduled absenteeism rose sharply, not just in 2002 but also in 2001, when they jumped to $755 per employee from $610. (The dollar averages are calculated against total employees, not just those who have had unscheduled absences.) (Britt, 2002). The most commonly cited reason for last-minute absences was personal illness, at 33 percent. Family issues ranked second in the 2002 study, at 24 percent, and personal needs accounted for 21 percent. Rounding out this year's reasons was stress, at 12 percent, and "entitlement mentality," 10 percent. One of the major causes of absenteeism in the workplace is stress. The annual price tag of stress in corporate America is more than $150 billion (Collie, 2005). In addition to rising health-care costs and costs of absenteeism in the United States, UK employers spend approximately ₤11.6 billion a year on long-term sick leave and sickness absence costs as well. As a means of reducing risk for employees, many companies in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom (which imported the trend from the U.S.) over the last several decades have introduced worksite health promotion programs. Such programs have historically resulted in reduced absenteeism, increased employee retention, reduced health-care costs, and employee satisfaction (Cogwell Anderson & Kaczmarek, 2004) Many companies are looking for ways to help improve the mental and psychological well being of their employees through education and encouragement of healthy lifestyle attitudes and practices. Businesses are now beginning to recognize the need to not only educate their employees regarding those lifestyle factors needed to remain healthy, but to implement programs to assure their employees of reaching their retirement years in good health. According to Cogwell Anderson & Kaczmarek (2004), by recognizing this need, increasing evidence shows that health promotion and wellness programs have proven successful for many companies and employees. Most chronic diseases are associated with lifestyle practices. Among these are heart disease, cancer, and other chronic debilitating diseases such as arthritis and diabetes. Contemporary lifestyle may be an associated factor in the development and progression of these diseases. Education regarding prevention and management of these diseases may reduce loss of life, improve quality of life, and better utilize financial resources. Additionally, screening programs for early detection and assessment of risk factors for these diseases may prove a valuable component of the educational program. Early detection reduces absenteeism, often reduces cost of treatment, and improves the prognosis. In addition to the physical tribulations associated with lifestyle practices, an employee also faces psychological problems both inside and outside the workplace that can affect his/her overall physical and mental health. Stress is a major problem that we as society face in our every day life. Stress not only causes damage to our health, but also interferes with our effectiveness in our daily lives. Furthermore, stress negatively affects individuals in the workplace, leading to a variety of undesirable consequences, including potential legal liability (Bernardt & Corville, 1999) Furthermore, authors Bernardt & Corville (1999) state that “stress is a physiological and psychological reaction from a perceived imbalance between a demand and the individual's ability to meet that demand.” (p. 11) They go on to say that when we are experiencing stress, certain mental, physical, and emotional responses cause us to think less clearly and be less coordinated, less tolerant of change, less effective at getting along with others, and less creative. Awareness and action are necessary to counteract those negative effects and develop resilience for the coming challenges as the world of work continues to change at a faster and faster pace. Besides the fact that jobs are stressful themselves, there are other situations that also trigger stress such as lazy co-workers (which is especially stressful in a team-based work environment), personality conflicts, difficult managers, change in responsibilities, or an interesting stressor which relates to downsizing “survivors’ syndrome." This is felt by the individuals who remain in an organization when others have been terminated. The added workload, relief and guilt they feel when they are not terminated on top of the insecurity that they will be next on the firing line. What else causes stress at work? Surprisingly, technology is another source of added stress in our lives. Voice mail and e-mail have bogged down many people with extra administrative tasks. Along with the advent of fax machines and e-mail, people expect immediate answers, which have increased the pace of work. Another cause of stress could be the mismatch between an employee's skills or personality and the job he or she performs. A lack of training and support can also set up employees for stress and ultimate failure in their jobs. An illustration of how companies are helping employees cope with stress, an increasing array of customized and innovative employee-wellness programs are being offered by health-care providers, consultants, health-insurance plans, and fitness centers. Often, these entities overlap in programs, services and expertise. Some of these programs focus on work related issues such as stress and time management, health-wellness profiles as well as help employees deal with other problems outside of the workplace (Bernardt & Corville, 1999). Below are a few areas in which companies offer employees guidance in: Stress Management Managing stress well is not an easy task and it sometimes takes time and practice until employees are at a happy medium. There are different ways in which managers can help employees in managing stress within the work environment which will continue on to their outside lives by: • developing management and delegation strategies to give them a sense of accomplishment and control; • encouraging and practicing open communication amongst the employees; • teach time management techniques, and • offer training in stress management, communication skills, and change management. Employee-assistance Programs Many companies such as my present employer, Wellington Management Company, offer employees and their household members access to an Employee Assistance Programs (“EAP”), Wellington’s EAP is provided through ValueOptions. Their trained counselors will listen carefully and refer us to the appropriate resource for the employees’ specific need. Or, if dealing with a crisis situation, a counselor is there to help right away. ValueOptions offers the employees and household members, full access to their website on a wide variety of issues as well as counseling which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at no cost to the employees. Some of the issues they have expertise in are: • Marital and family problems • Depression and anxiety • Alcohol and/or drug abuse • Balancing work and family • Health & wellness • Work-related concerns • Financial or legal issues • Personal growth and development Health Screenings One article (“Wellness Defined,” June 2003) states these screenings play a major role in the wellness profile and more and more of these screenings are being implemented in many of the workplaces today. Screenings may include blood pressure, cholesterol, hearing and vision testing as well as EKGs. Lipid screenings which assess total cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, offer information that can help predict the risk for cardiovascular disease as well as offering prenatal classes for expectant mothers in the first trimester of pregnancy. Health education and Nutritional Counseling More and more people are becoming health conscience not only to increase longevity in their lives, but also be able to function better in the workplace and in the lives they lead outside of the office. Employers are offering such programs such as educational forums which are linked to specific wellness topics; corporate health fairs are being held to not only offer screenings, but also have invited guests from the different companies promoting healthy lifestyles and these forums also printed information for the employees on a variety of different topics such as physical fitness and nutritional guidance. Other programs that are being implemented in the workplace are the weekly meetings from organizations such as Weight Watchers. The website for The Broward Country Public School System (2004), located in Florida shows the school system is offering Weight Watchers in their workplace at a reduced rate to their employees. Tina Severance-Fonte, Wellness Coordinator at Broward says “By having Weight Watchers meetings at the workplace, employees do not have to take time off from their busy schedule attend a meeting.” By attending the meetings, employees have not only the group support that is helpful when losing weight, but they also learn important skills for handling challenging food situations. The Weight Watchers program focuses on nutrition, activity, behavior and maintenance and is led by trained leaders who have also lost weight successfully on the program. These are just a few of the different programs that are being implemented in workplaces all across the country as well as other parts of the world. In summary, employee health and safety are of concern, both to the employer and to the employee. The benefits of employee health and safety programs in terms of time, money, and productivity can be extremely substantial. Companies who currently engage in worksite health promotion/wellness programs are to be applauded. For those seeking to initiate a program, numerous resources exist and are readily available. Research consistently reports positive results from such programs. (Cogwell Anderson & Kaczmarek, 2004)
References
Bernardt, Lauren M. & Corville, Jocelyn. Helping Employees Manage Stress. (Fall 1999). Canadian Manager, p11, 4p, 3bw. Retrieved March 8, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Britt, Julie. Workplace No-Shows' Costs to Employees Rise Again (December 2002). HR Magazine Dec2002, p26, 3/4p. Retrieved March 8, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Broward Country Public Schools (2005). Weight Watchers at Broward County. Retrieved from http://www.broward.k12.fl.us/benefits/wellness/
Cogwell Anderson, Rebecca & Kaczmarek, Beth (2004). The Importance of Promoting Health in the Workplace. The Internet Journal of Academic Physician Assistants, p31, 6p. Retrieved March 8, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Collie, Dale. Pressure Points (February 2005). Business West Feb2005, p66, 2p. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Kaplan-Leiserson, Eva. Work Healthy.(January 2004). American Society for Training & Development, p12, 2p, 2c. Retrieved March 6, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Manocha, Rima. Well Adjusted (April 8, 2004 ). People Management Vol. 10 Issue 7, p26, 5p, 1c. Retrieved March 6, 2005, from EBSCO host database.
Wellness Defined (June 2003 Supplement). Indiana Business Magazine, p6, 2p. Retrieved March 6, 2005, from EBSCO host database.…...

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