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Workplace wellness a key part of fitness

March 27, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Staff Writer ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Besides home, the one place most adults spend the majority of their time is at their place of work, usually one-third or more of the day. For individuals who are hoping to improve their own health, that part of the day can be made more difficult if their work environment isn't a healthy one.

Luckily, setting up an employee wellness program doesn't have to be a costly endeavor, even for small businesses and organizations.

"Every program can be different," said Pam Roose, Nutrition and Wellness program director and registered dietitian at Marquette General Hospital.

Article Photos

Manager Zach Quinnell sets out healthy snacks for employees in the Econo break room. As part of its wellness program, Econo Foods contracts with both a nurse and a nutritionist who visit the store once a week. All employees may have one-on-one meetings with both the nurse and nutritionist to get measurements taken or ask questions. The nutritionist will even help create individualized diet plans for those who are interested. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)

For businesses hoping to help their employees live healthier lives, and therefore help control healthcare costs, a wellness program can mean anything from providing healthy snacks in the breakroom instead of typical vending machine fare, offering flex time for employees to be able to exercise during the day or providing incentives for employees to attend various wellness programs throughout the community.

"It doesn't have to cost a lot," Roose said.

Although wellness programs can be as formal or informal as the employees and company want, enacting policies to guide that program can help the program endure and last beyond the few employees who helped to first organize it, continuing a culture of wellness in each business.

"It is not about a program," Roose said. "It's about a culture. The programs are the support of the culture."

One of the important first steps in setting up a wellness program for your own business or organization is to get the support of not only other employees, but also the support of top managers within the organization. Then, identify someone within the organization who would be willing to act as a coordinator for the program and several (maybe four to ten) employees from different areas of the organization who would be willing to act as a committee to meet regularly until the program is standing on its own feet.

Once those key organizers are in place, Roose suggested investigating what employees need or want out of a wellness program. To help identify those needs, she suggested a tool called Designing Healthy Environments at Work, an analysis tool available online at, developed by the Michigan Healthy Communities Collaborative.

Free for companies in Michigan, the DHEW requires businesses to fill in information about their worksite, including the areas of worksite health promotion, tobacco, physical activity and nutrition. The DHEW requires around 2-4 hours of research and data collection and then 30-60 minutes to input the information. A print version of the tool is available on the website to assist with the research portion of the project.

In each section, the DHEW tool asks questions on how the businesses currently promotes healthy living to its employees, if there are policies regarding smoking and tobacco use and whether the businesses sponsors physical activity opportunities and nutrition activities.

When the tool is completed, it provides the company with a point-based ranking system for each section to help analyze the organization's wellness currently and gives recommendations of policies that could be enacted or changed to better promote health.

"It steers you in the right direction," Roose said.

Using the DHEW results and input from employees, the wellness committee and coordinator can then address certain areas that need work, such as providing healthier snacks.

Roose said MGH recently completed the DHEW tool, using input from various department representatives, to help forward its own wellness program. In January, employees at the hospital took a health risk assessment to help individuals gain insight as to how they could improve their own health.

The hospital also offers wellness information sessions twice a month for employees, providing information on everything from nutrition and exercise to cancer awareness. Each time an employee attends one of the sessions, they receive a punch on a punch card, with certain amounts of punches earning them discounts to local workout facilities or other coupons.

Roose said the sessions have so far been well attended by employees and that she has seen employees increasingly taking advantage of healthier options offered at the hospital's cafeteria.

"That's a culture change. The more we talk about wellness, the more it rubs off," she said.

For businesses who are unable to provide their own wellness programs, one option is to create incentives for employees to take part in free community programs and lectures, such as the Healthy Weight Journal, Roose said.

"There are a lot of free events that they can tie their employee wellness into," she said.

For employees, benefits of such programs are obvious - improving health, decreasing stress levels. But for the business or organization, setting up a wellness program is also a great benefit.

"It's improving employee productivity and increasing morale, decreasing stress, decreasing employee absenteeism and having a positive effect on healthcare costs," Roose said.

The DHEW website offers steps for how to set up a wellness program, tips for completing the online tool, suggestions for policies businesses can enact to promote wellness and other resources for those who want to learn more, available at

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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