Thursday, 01 August 2013 20:31

HR’s Role in Workplace Wellness

Written by Angie Bailey, SPHR, CCP, and Jennifer Hoert, PHR, CHC

The dialog around workplace wellness is evolving. What at one time was considered a “bonus” or “perk” work/life program has evolved into a strategic business conversation between the C-Suite professionals and their benefits brokers and vendors. Yes, mitigating benefits costs has initiated most of the conversation about wellness programs in the workplace, but what we are learning is the conversation about workplace wellness encompasses so much more.

As Human Resource leaders, you have likely attended a local Chapter SHRM meeting or Chamber meeting or conference that has featured a speaker on Wellness. Workplace wellness topics range from employee safety, stress-reduction, walking/step programs, weight management and healthier food options programs, financial management programs, and incentives to motivate participation in such programs. Any presentation on wellness today would likely include an update on the dismal state of our health, not just in Kentucky or our region, but also our nation. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that chronic diseases, non-communicable illnesses that are prolonged in duration and do not resolve spontaneously and are rarely cured completely, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. Chronic diseases account for seven out of 10 deaths among Americans each year. The most common chronic diseases are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis. The CDC also says that there are four common, health-damaging, but modifiable behaviors contributing to these diseases: tobacco use, insufficient physical activity, poor eating habits, and excessive alcohol use. So wait…these chronic diseases can be prevented? That’s right. We (you, me, your employees, our communities, etc.) are in control. Our lifestyle choices impact our health and wellness.

Why does this matter to you as a Human Resources leader?

The human and economic impact of chronic disease on business, individuals, families, and communities is enormous—not to mention the impact on government and the US economy. Research has found that employee health status directly influences work behavior, work attendance, and on-the-job performance (i.e. presenteeism). If we can impact the health and wellbeing of employees we can have a healthier, more productive, and more engaged and satisfied workforce. The probable impact on costs—medical and workers compensation claims, turnover, and productivity—interests your CEO and CFO. Imagine as well the impact on the employee whose stress level is significantly reduced because their family is enjoying a healthier lifestyle. Imagine the aging employee who continues to be a strong contributor because they are free of chronic disease or pain. Consider the impact to business and employees alike when a community partners with business leaders to deliver workplace wellness programs. As an HR professional, you should be doing cartwheels if you’re fortunate enough to be involved in these types of conversations and initiatives.

What is your role in Workplace Wellness?

The current state of affairs in the workforce must be considered as we discuss your role. Our workforce is aging, there is a high percentage of workers with chronic diseases (in 2005, at least one out of every two adults had one chronic disease according to the CDC), higher numbers of women, rising proportion of Hispanic/Latino workers, and there are greater financial strains on people making it necessary to work two jobs or at least seek more hours. With these workforce issues as the backdrop what is your role in addressing wellness issues?

As the HR leader, you are responsible for the human capital of your organization. This means that your CEO expects you to recruit, cultivate, and retain talent, handle the people-centered issues in your organization and manage healthcare costs. That spills into many areas: employee benefits, employee satisfaction, morale, culture, talent management, productivity, career development, training, communications, work/life balance, policies and procedures, wellness programming, etc.

The HR leader’s responsibility goes beyond implementing programs around improving benefits costs and workplace wellness. Frankly, human resources transitioned from the administrative “implementing” group in organizations to the thought-leading, creative and solution-oriented business partners some time ago. So the HR leader’s role in improving the workforce and workplace culture is obvious.

Leading the Way

When it comes to workplace wellness, successful initiatives begin at the top. Are the leaders in your organization leading by example? As with any effective program or culture change, it’s not only important to get CEO buy-in, the senior professionals in your organization need to model the behaviors you wish to see from the employees.

And as the HR leader, you are also expected to lead by example. Are you modeling a lifestyle that demonstrates wellness?

Does your organization live its wellness values? Or do you say it is important to make lifestyle changes and to seek work/life balance while at the same time no one in the organization uses their vacation time and there is no flexibility in scheduling? Are you encouraging employees to participate in weight-management programs but still serving donuts and cookies in employee meetings? Do your organization’s policies and benefits represent the healthier culture you’re trying to achieve (tobacco-free workplace, exercise incentives, sufficient paid time off)?

Kentucky Not So Lucky

Regardless of where you are in the workplace wellness conversation, for organizations in our great Commonwealth of Kentucky it’s important to note the statistics.

KY is leading the nation in:

• New cases and deaths from Lung Cancer
• New cases of Colorectal Cancer
• Highest rate of Arthritis

This Winning Trend continues:

• 2nd in COPD
• 3rd in Adult Obesity
• Projected 60.1 percent by 2030 in KY (61% about?)
• 4th in Adult Asthma

Learn More
Please join Angie and Jennifer at the KYSHRM State Conference on September 27, 2013 from 1 to 2:30pm to hear about strategies to address workplace wellness issues, discuss the role of HR and to review specific case studies from organizations in our region.

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