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Six must-know tips for businesses in creating a healthy worksite

By Dawn Brazell | News Center | October 10, 2013

MUSC Fitness ParkAndrew Farney tries out the push up station at MUSC's new Fitness Park next to the Urban Farm.
Photo by Dawn Brazell 

A light fall breeze brushes past an eggplant growing in MUSC’s Urban Farm as a group roams through rows of greenery. Nearby, a passerby stops to briefly pump out a few chin-ups at the new Fitness Park, and then some MUSC employees walk by briskly, tossing out friendly waves.

Susan Johnson, Ph.D., waves back, pleased. “I want it so anywhere you go, you can see the evidence of healthy living,” she said of recent healthy additions to the MUSC campus that helped it to become a Gold Medal Hospital Sept. 27. The designation is part of Working Well, a collaboration between the South Carolina Hospital Association and NC Prevention Partners, in recognizing centers for providing the highest standard of excellence in creating a physically active workplace. 

A few years ago, this wouldn’t have been the scene on campus.

Dr. Susan Johnson 

It’s one reason Johnson, director of the Office of Health Promotion, isn’t done yet. She knows how much businesses and institutions that adopt healthy cultures can impact employee health. While keeping up a healthy momentum on the MUSC campus, she also plans to roll out a Charleston Healthy Business Challenge, modeled in part on the Charleston Green Business Challenge, to encourage area employers to rethink how they support a healthy and fit environment. MUSC will partner with several groups to offer the program.

“Healthy workers are more productive workers,” she said, reciting benefits ranging from reduced absenteeism to improved productivity. “The list goes on and on of the benefits. It’s the right thing to do.”

The following are her top six tips for businesses based on what has worked at MUSC in landing its new Gold Metal standard and providing a healthier environment for employees. “I want to share our successes. It’s part of my larger vision for Charleston to become the healthiest city in the Southeast, if not the nation.

"A big piece of that is your behavior at work. We spend a lot of our time at work. The workplace can be a powerful influencer on personal behaviors and have a rippling effect on the community.”

1)    Start at the top.

Senior support is the key to success in making a culture change. She recommends getting a letter of commitment as a good way to demonstrate to the entire organization that the leadership values the health and wellness of the workforce and is willing to provide the necessary resources to support this effort. “It’s hard to start at the ground level if you don’t have support from the top.”

Leadership from management will be critical in creating a culture where employees know healthy living is a valued goal. “A strong message needs to be sent that it’s OK for you to engage in healthy behaviors, and we’re going to encourage it, model it and make it as easy for you as we can. I can’t say how much it means to have someone at a high level who wants to walk the walk.”

2.  Set up the infrastructure to support the culture change.

Johnson recommends establishing a wellness committee, wellness champions and a designated wellness coordinator. “Someone needs to take the lead and if part or all of the job description includes wellness, that’s even better.”

Committee members should be representative of all levels of the organization and should be people who are passionate about health and wellness. If they have special talents, such as healthy cooking or leading exercise, that is even better. “Champions are people who may or may not serve on the committee but who are active participants and agree to promote activities in their area.”

3.    Data rules.

Assess the current health and wellness status of your group. Use Health Risk Assessments (often free as a part of health insurance coverage, providing valuable information on individual health status and behaviors), health claims, disability, workman's compensation, turnover, absenteeism, sick day information (often available from Human Resources) and other assessment tools that look at policies and the environment related to health promotion within an organization.

4.    Provide focal key pillars.

Make the key pillars relate to reduced health care costs and increased productivity - healthy food environment, physically active workplace, tobacco-free workplace and specific workers’ needs. Other areas to consider: Preventative screenings, mental health and substance abuse.

5.    Start with policy and environmental changes.

Programs and challenges are fun and generate excitement, but focus on environmental and policy changes first. Those changes will make the healthy choice the easy choice. For example, are healthy vending options available? Is the workplace a smoke-free environment? Are employees given easy access to gyms? Are “walking” meetings encouraged? Develop company policies that spell out the value of a healthy environment and how it will be supported.

6. Ignore the naysayers.

Some people may complain it’s too hard to change the culture or ask how it’s possible to provide a mini-gym, for example, in this tough economic climate. There are many inexpensive ways to incorporate mini-gyms into a workplace, though, she said. It doesn’t have to be a treadmill. It can be as simple as a stability ball and fitness bands. A company may start with free stress management courses or a substance abuse educational program, depending on the needs of its employees. Small steps count and a healthier group means a more productive group. The real question to her is: “How can companies afford not to do this?”

Small, steady steps will get a company there. “I am amazed at what we have accomplished and the transformation I’ve witnessed in such a short time. All around our campus you’ll see evidence of MUSC’s commitment to creating a physical environment that contributes to health and well-being.”



Related Stories >>

MUSC's Susan Johnson emerges as a leader in Charleston's wellness movement(The Post and Courier)

MUSC is newest gold medal hospital and gold triple threat(SCHA)

Smoke-free medical district becomes reality March 1 (MUSC News Center)

Related Sources >>

MUSC Office of Health Promotion

MUSC Wellness Center

MUSC Urban Farm

Charleston Green Business Challenge


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