- Organizations create cultures of wellness by combining health education with onsite efforts to promote healthy behaviors and an institutional emphasis on health as a central value.
- For employees in such organizations, health is part of the culture, and to be healthy is to be part of the community
- These organizations create environments that ease and encourage the behaviors that support wellness.
- More than just a benefit, wellness becomes a central thread of the entire organization.
Some of the most impressive wellness programs do more than simply offer benefits or incentives; they create an environment that encourages, and even nudges, people in the direction of healthy behaviors. These employers create a work environment in which employee wellness is the culture, not just a program.
Of course, there are many ways of doing this, and no single technique can function as a “magic bullet” for making health behaviors the norm in a workplace. In fact, as the very concept of a “culture of wellness” suggests, an emphasis on health and wellbeing pervades most, if not all, aspects of an organization. Those who create a such a culture don’t just create single programs, but rather foster an environment where wellness is accessible, valued, and even expected. While there is no step-by-step path to creating a culture of wellness, the leaders in this area have several important things in common:
First, they involve all members of their community. This may, in itself, seem practical, but it involves more than making wellness programs and incentives a benefit for all employees. For example, Stanford University opens many of its health and wellness offerings to both students and employees, making healthy behavior and a strong community mutually reinforcing. In addition, wellness programs are not restricted to only people at high risk. For example, weight loss and nutrition programs are available to all, rather than requiring a minimum BMI to qualify as a covered benefit.
In addition, these workplaces reinforce health messages. Consider, for example, the distinction between offering nutrition or weight loss classes alone, or offering them in a workplace with a cafeteria that serves healthy foods. The education alone may help to promote health, but the availability of food choices that align with this education powerfully reinforces the messaging, turning awareness into behavior without requiring extra effort on the part of employees.
Beyond simply creating a healthy environment, however, those who create a culture of wellness do so in ways that increase and ease healthy choices, rather than simply restricting unhealthy options. This encourages buy-in, sustains satisfaction with the program, and perhaps even has the potential to reinforce healthy behaviors outside the workplace.
Additionally, organizations and companies with a strong culture of wellness have leaders who support those programs. Beyond simply allocating resources for wellness, these leaders “walk the talk,” actively engaging in healthy behaviors of their own, expressing support for employees who do the same, and clearly communicating that wellness is a central value of the company. And, most important, this comes not only from a single leader or department but extends throughout an organization’s leadership.
Finally, employers that achieve a true culture of wellness successfully communicate that this effort is for the employees’ sake, not for that of the company. Their message is, “We care about and want to support your health,” not, “We want to reduce our costs.”
BeFit and Wellness Programming
Hospitals, as settings specifically dedicated to health, seem like logical settings in which to invest in employee health as well. MGH has done impressive work in creating programs for fitness and nutrition that are combined with available onsite resources and environmental design to promote healthy behaviors.
In 2006, MGH launched the BeFit program, a 10-week nutrition and fitness education program which, on its own, is admirable but not robust enough to create a culture of wellness. However, MGH backs up BeFit in several ways that powerfully reinforce each other. First, BeFit is available to all employees who receive benefits from MGH, not just those who demonstrate particular risk factors. This means that wellness is framed as important to the whole community, and not just as a way to prevent costs. More important, MGH pays careful attention to the environmental factors that support health and influence decision making. In 2010, MGH implemented “Choose Well, Eat Well,” which uses a red-yellow-green labeling system to indicate healthy options in each of its cafeterias. It has also supported this effort with structural changes to make healthy choices more visible in its cafeterias. Further acknowledging that convenience and opportunity are needed to put health knowledge into practice, MGH also provides discounted membership to the fitness center, The Clubs at Charles River Park to all employees. Individuals participating in the Be Fit program receive free membership.
- Douglas Levy and Anne Thorndike, Personal Correspondence, Phone/E-mail, 2017; “About BeFit,” 2017, http://www.mghbefit.com/about/.
- “About BeFit.”
- Ibid.; Levy and Thorndike, Personal Correspondence.