Employee WellnessPatient Engagement

How Can You Create a Culture of Health in Your Organization?

A culture of health at the workplace makes employees and employers safe and happy.

A culture develops when everyone from the CEO down the line embraces and promotes the health and wellbeing of everyone else in the company. Building a health culture is a team effort with lots of team spirit. Logically, that’s the prime ingredient of health culture—motivation to better people’s lives.

How easy is that?

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Well, it depends on how you define “culture,” among other terms. Certainly, a health culture is not just talk. It’s a sustained effort. It’s not a sales pitch. It must be a genuine yearning to be fulfilled because it takes a long-term commitment, especially for those at the top choosing wellness programs, policies, health insurance benefits, and environmental designs for the workplace.

A consciousness about health must pervade a company’s mental landscape, so all eyes are tracking the opportunities to make work life a place to thrive—in good physical, mental, and emotional health.

A Culture of Respect

What specifically do you need?

If your company is anything like the Mayo Clinic exemplified in L. Berry & K Seltman’s book, Management Lessons from the Mayo Clinic, then your company must consistently operate according to its values and principles: respect for people.

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The authors describe that operating principle clearly: “Mayo Clinic’s core values nurture a culture of respect that contributes to the quality of work life. What is cherished (values) shapes behavior (culture). The profound respect Mayo employees typically have for patients, for each other, and for the institution is palpable.”

A culture of wellness is predicated on a fundamental underlying assumption: people are your super power. Only then naturally follow the creation of programs that foster respect  and dive deeply into the psychological and physical needs of employees. With the goal to better lives, the steps to achieve a wellness program breaks down to maintaining a safe and healthy environment of support for well being, work performance, and healthy relationships between employees and management, employees and employees, and company and clients or customers.  

Fostering human well being is no easy task. It’s not a matter of words. People live intricate and sometimes messy lives. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. While some are good at asking for what they need, others struggle to figure out what they need let alone voice their discontent. Work relationships, home relationships, financial stress, genetic and environmentally induced illness, and traumatic injury continually cause disruptions that affect others in and outside the workplace.

The Formula for Implementing a Program to Foster a Health Culture

These are the subjective, relational considerations for any one work place. Fortunately, there are proven formulas that, if implemented in the right spirit with honest dedication, promise to scoop up the majority of employees in the health net of a wellness program.

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If you’re a federal agency, you might take the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, by providing these program components:

  • Dedicated leadership at the top—leaders and managers support implementation of health measures
  • Designated health and wellness coordinator or committee who develop a wellness program
  • Dedicated resources to make any programs, policies, and incentives work
  • Communication of the available resources, information, and details of programs and opportunities to employees
  • Regular program evaluation by leaders and support teams
  • Health and wellness integration into the overall company goals and practices
  • Encouraged participation, acknowledged achievement, and eliminated obstacles

What Can Leaders Do to Support Employee Health?

There’s no one formula for successful development of a health and wellness culture. But leaders are responsible for enculturating employees. Officers and managers set the tone, pace, and expectations of employee behavior and mindset. They’re the biggest influencers if they’re saying and doing the right things.

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Here are some things they can do:

  1. Personally communicate to employees their wishes, concerns, and dedication to employee health. Whether by memo, email, or letter, leaders need to let their employees know that their health is paramount. Then act to prove it.
  2. Participate in wellness activities.
  3. Offer incentives for participation.
  4. Use company procedures as opportunities to spread the good word at company events, performance reviews, or meetings.
  5. Dedicate resources to health and wellness facilities, life coaches, health staff, events (races, health expos, walk about the neighborhood, bicycle to work incentives, weight loss competitions, etc.), informational speakers and online resources, health insurance, healthy food and snacks, flex schedules, and time during the workday for rest, fun, or fitness. Set an annual budget for wellness.
  6. Celebrate success and evaluate what’s not working.
  7. Develop a team dedicated to mentoring and encouraging others. Encourage not only participation but engage achievers as team leaders to motivate and inspire others.  

Of course, planning the implementation of a wellness program to change or start a company culture is always crucial for success. A formal plan might include:

  • A planning committee of stakeholders that solicits input from those standing to benefit from the results of a plan
  • Identify and order desired outcomes: good planning requires recognizing strengths and weaknesses of existing conditions to develop an effective program.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Assess the current and future potential for a program.
  • Plan steps and goals: Think SMART, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound to help map out steps to take as well as build on current achievements.
  • Specify who does what and when: people, actions, and timelines.
  • Evaluate the progress of the program throughout its implementation and growth.

A Culture of Safety

This is a must. There’s no sense pretending to care about employees if the workplace is unsafe, structurally, chemically, emotionally, and ergonomically. Furniture that creates body strain, chemical producers without safety tools and procedures against toxic exposure, or subjection to psychologically abusive employees are all examples of hazardous conditions.

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If you work in a hospital, you may be exposed to unavoidable dangers. So extra vigilance protects patients and employees. In hospitals, safety checking and re-checking must be the culture. Hospitals must continually test the safety waters.

A culture of safety is maintained when hospitals regularly conduct culture of safety surveys to keep the pulse on institutional and regulatory safety standards. Using the industry-wide standards and tools that accurately and impartially assess safety procedures, tools, and practices, hospitals ensure the health of their patients and employees.

“Culture,” in this instance, aligns with industry and regulatory mandates as well as the dictates of the nature of the job.

A National Culture of Health

Even nationally, it’s possible to plan for promoting a healthier culture.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation outlined a ten-point core principle outline upon which to base any strategy to develop a culture of health as follows:

  1. Optimal health and well-being flourish across geographic, demographic, and social sectors.
  2. Opportunities to be healthy and stay healthy are valued and accessible to everyone across the entire society.
  3. Individuals and families have the means and opportunities to make choices that lead to healthy lifestyles and optimal well-being and functioning.
  4. Business, government, individuals, and organizations work together to foster healthy communities and lifestyles.
  5. Everyone has access to affordable, high-quality health care—both preventive and remedial. 6. No one is excluded.
  6. Health care is efficient and equitable.
  7. The economy is less burdened by excessive and unwarranted health care spending.
  8. The health of the population guides public and private decisionmaking.
  9. Americans understand that we are all in this together.

Making Health the Default Culture

A health culture begins with earnest desire and respect for humanity. From those principles grow the goals and aims of a specific program to help others, whether that’s a company wellness program, a hospital safety practice, or a basis for government healthcare policy.

With real compassion and genuine belief in the cause, a business, government institution, hospital or even a nation can ensure their wellness programs and policies are generated from good will. That’s how to create a health culture that everyone can default to, like second nature–a given.

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