How did the practice of making New Year’s Resolutions start? It seems to have begun in pre-Christian times with moral changes such as being good to others. January is named after the Roman God, Janus, who has two faces— one that looked to the past and one that looked to the future. January 1st then, seems the perfect time to look at our past behavior and decide what needs changing. In modern times, the focus for New Year’s resolutions has shifted to improving our health, appearance or both. The shift usually occurs by stopping bad habits and replacing them with good ones.
With medical costs increasing steadily and the incidence of obesity continuing to climb, it makes sense for people to want to make improvements to avoid these health problems. Even if your goal is solely fitting into your skinny jeans, better health is usually a happy by-product. Since so many employees are trying to juggle work with family and social obligations, squeezing in habit changing behavior can be a challenge.
Studies have shown that 40-45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year. Adherence to resolutions drops from 75 percent after the first week to 64 percent after one month. Although at least 20-25 percent of those people will not make it past the first week, a surprising 40-46 percent will still be working at it 6 months later. Among the top resolutions are to exercise more (or to start), to lose weight, quit smoking, and to spend more time with family and friends and to enjoy life more.
Although the resolutions dealing with health are more challenging than the others, research shows that people who specifically make resolutions are 10 times more likely to reach their goals than those who don’t explicitly make resolutions. (http://proactivechange.com/resolutions/statistics.htm)
Americans spend increasingly more time at the office than in the past. This puts businesses on the frontline for helping their employees to take control of their health. Not only does a health-conscious approach toward employees foster retention and much needed access to wellness information and services, but it also provides cost savings to a corporation’s bottom line.
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 75 percent of healthcare costs are for diseases that are preventable. Organizations that implement a Health and Wellness program for their employees see a reduction in absenteeism and an overall reduction in healthcare costs in the long term. Effective programs include initial health assessments to identify high-risk individuals in conjunction with incentives and access to information on healthy lifestyle options. Large improvements in absenteeism are the single most critical positive impact from these programs.
It will take time for the return on investment in healthcare costs to show up. Initial costs for healthcare will go up with the investment in the planning and establishment of a Health and Wellness program. Additionally, the initial health assessments will discover new health issues and subsequent treatment or procedures for employees. Ultimately, the costs invested will be worth it. The typical cost for a surgical procedure can run to $15,000, while the average cost of acute disease can be as much as $45,000 per incident.
Assessing What Type of Program is Right for Your Organization
The CDC provides abundant information about Workplace Health Promotion such as making a business case and key questions to ask before embarking on a corporate Health and Wellness program including:
- What are the key health issues affecting employees?
- What factors at the worksite influence employee health?
- What are the employees’ health and safety concerns?
- What strategies are most appropriate to address these health issues?
Looking at the answers to these questions will help management start the process of implementing a Health and Wellness program that meets both the needs of the company and the needs of the employees. A comprehensive Health and Wellness program contains multiple individual programs, services and tools. The range of what to include in a program is very broad. The factors that go into the decision to provide a program like this are varied and would obviously include an evaluation of the resources available to invest. An on-site evaluation might include an observation of the work environment, an employee questionnaire and health assessments. Even if your corporation isn’t in a position to subsidize a health fair, providing the information to encourage employees to get them is a start:
- Establish relationships with local testing facilities that offer wellness tests or just provide information about them.
- Encourage employees to use their Health Savings Account or FSA funds, which are available to them through the first quarter of the year from previous year deposits.
- Create a message board, either in a break room or online, that provides information and coupons or discounts from local health clubs.
Your Organization’s Role
Once you have assessed the health of your employees either through observation, questionnaires or testing, it’s time to determine what you want to do about it. The range of possibilities is endless and could start with putting up posters to encourage healthful habits all the way to providing or subsidizing health assessments and exercise facilities or programs. According to the CDC, the basic steps of providing a Health Promotion Program includes the following:
- Assessing – Looking at the current health of employees and the workplace impact on health as discussed above.
- Planning – Deciding which and how many programs will be implemented. Deciding who will lead the effort, who will manage it, who will be involved both inside and outside the company and how the program will be communicated to employees.
- Implementing – Setting up the program entails education for employees, setting up corporate policies around how the program will be run and managed, incorporating any health benefits that will be included and providing the access and information to the program.
- Evaluating – Determining which pieces of the program have been well received and which have been utilized will assist in targeting the program in the future for the most benefit to the employees and to the organization. Evaluation should include metrics on absenteeism and productivity, improved health outcomes for individuals, changes in health benefit costs and measurements on organizational change such as morale and employee retention.
Getting Your Employees Started
The first thing that employees should be encouraged to do is to obtain a baseline of their health with some basic lab tests. Some basic tests that provide valuable information about a person’s health include:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): Tests for blood disorders such as leukemia, anemia and blood clotting.
- Chemistry Panel: Includes 16 essential tests which give information about glucose levels, electrolytes, and kidney and liver functions
- Lipid Panel: Analyzes your cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL and HDL levels. Results can be used to determine your risk for coronary artery disease or stroke.
- Urinalysis: Tests your urine for substances that can indicate metabolic problems or kidney disorders.
- Thyroid Panel: Analyzes thyroid function and signs or hyper- or hypo-thyroidism.
All of these tests should provide the individual’s results, plus how the results compare to those of a healthy person. This information will highlight problem areas or areas of concern that may require additional testing or research.
Once employees have this information in hand, they are well-armed for the next steps which include goal setting and/or treatment options. Many typical health issues can easily be treated with medications that can prevent further damage or catastrophic health events such as stroke and heart attack. Research has shown that behavioral change can have the greatest impact on preventable disease. Providing information on steps employees can take to lower cholesterol, lose weight, or become more active can prevent disease from occurring and in many cases reverse it.
Goal Setting and Using a New Year to Motivate Employees
The primary step in setting a goal and the natural next step to achieving a goal (and keeping a resolution) is to determine where you are and where you want to be. Without this key information, it will be impossible to know if you’ve reached your goal. Once employees have obtained a baseline, they can set specific goals. Do they need to lose 10 pounds, 25 pounds or 50 pounds? Do they need to lower their cholesterol by 50 points or 100 points? Is their blood sugar level too high? By how much? All of this information can lead to a very specific plan to reduce caloric intake by the right number of calories or reduce fat consumption by the right percentage.
Some targeted goal setting tips that organizations can post or provide via a Health and Wellness eNewsletter can motivate employees to set the right goals and take steps to follow through on the activities needed to achieve their goals:
- Make it specific – Set a specific number for not only the ultimate goal but for intermediate goals as well. How much time will you spend exercising today, this week, this month and for the year? What steps will you take to lower your cholesterol today and next month?
- Make it realistic – Trying to lose 30 pounds in one month may not be realistic. Making small changes and expecting small incremental results are more successful than a drastic, cold-turkey approach. Seeing daily or weekly successes will encourage maintenance of good habits.
- Make it known – Telling others about goals can make people feel accountable for the changes they are making. Setting up office competitions for reaching health targets and maybe adding some incentives such as a coupon for a local healthy restaurant can help employees to work together by making goals public.
- Make it measurable by time – Now that employees have a baseline and know their starting points they can set up checkpoints to get retested for progress toward health goals. Again, providing information on local testing facilities or providing in-house testing opportunities can help people stay on track by presenting them with easy ways to measure their progress.
- Make it fun and rewarding – Ultimately, individuals need to be motivated independently to set and achieve goals that require them to change their long-entrenched habits and move out of their comfort zones. Employees spend almost one-third of every workday at the office. Small rewards or providing healthy snack samples can make a difference. Reiterating that the long-term personal rewards, looking and feeling better for yourself or loved ones, are out there just waiting for people to reach them can remind people of their goals.
It’s no secret that it’s easier to make a promise than to keep it. Each organization has unique challenges with resources and work environment that can contribute to or prevent their employees from being healthy. Taking the time to invest in the well-being of the individuals that make up the company will keep them productive and at work. Organizations have the responsibility to provide a safe, hazard-free workplace, but they also have significant opportunities to encourage healthful choices and provide a healthy work environment for the 139 million people who go to work every day in the US. Whether it’s a simple health information campaign or a full-blown, comprehensive Health and Wellness Program, is this the year that your organization makes a resolution to improve the health of your employees? It’s not too late to start.
Maureen Young is a Consumer Education Advocate for ANY LAB TEST NOW®, a direct access health and wellness lab testing facility. She is a writer, healthcare advocate, and fitness enthusiast driven to explore advances in the healthcare and medical industries. Ms. Young started her career in high-tech sales and marketing, but quickly found her passion in education, training and health issues. Ms. Young’s background in technical writing and research enables her to translate medical and technical information into an easily digestible form. Her recent experience includes working for not-for-profit membership organizations, website development and optimization, and health-related blog, E-Book and article writing.