The data demonstrating the health and wellness benefits of social support is overwhelming. And although worksite health promoters have known social, emotional, and spiritual health is as important to well-being as physical health, few employee wellness programs give it the same priority as fitness, nutrition, weight loss, or smoking cessation. Part of the reason is the culture in most organizations doesn’t lend itself to social health. The classic The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge, et al, says it best:
By fulfilling their economic mission, industrial enterprises improved living standards for many millions of people. But they also separated us from our traditional ties to the land, to our families, and to communities of place — without filling the vacuum left by diminished sense of common purpose and social values. We see the results in the workplace in drug abuse, personal stress, family crises, and health problems — all of which cause as many problems for the organization as they do for society and for the affected individuals.
Changing the workplace culture to one with shared responsibility and a sense of community isn’t a short-term proposition. Many organizations are trying — through team-building, shared decision-making initiatives, and most recently with attempts at online social networking tools geared toward health behaviors. Success has been scattered at best. And the damage to morale caused by staffing cuts the last few 2 years has eroded whatever gains may have been made to this point.
Where the Employee Wellness Practitioner Fits
You, as a worksite wellness promoter, probably have more influence on culture and a sense of community than you know. Some ideas:
One of the best examples of a complete culture of social support can be seen in the highly successful online retailer Zappos, as described by founder and former CEO Tony Hsieh in his new book, Delivering Happiness. Employee wellness takes on an entirely new meaning when it’s the CEO who is not just implementing a happiness culture, but also living it. Hsieh didn’t just add an employee wellness program to an existing company culture — he created the company culture out of wellness initiatives designed to make people happy. The results were staggering, and the company value increased by a $billion in just over 10 years.
About the author:
Dean Witherspoon, CEO and founder of worksite wellness firm, Health Enhancement Systems, has 25 years in health promotion. He has served on the board of the Association for Worksite Health Promotion and held several regional as well as state offices. Dean is a nationally known speaker and author, having presented at more than 70 conferences and written hundreds of worksite wellness articles for national publications.