Leaving electrical cords near water can be dangerous, and businesses wouldn’t want employees to be exposed to something unsafe. Yet, the same businesses might serve doughnuts and muffins at every morning staff meeting, which can be unhealthy and dangerous to employees' health.

Making workplace wellness as important as workplace safety in a business requires treating wellness as a culture rather than a fad, said Michael Monroe Kiefer, a psychologist, author, business trainer, and motivational speaker.

Most workplaces — whether a hospital or manufacturing facility — have safety programs, but not all have wellness programs, he said.

“You have safety training; you have safety programs. Safety training in most organizations is not a fad. It’s not like, ‘oh, we’re going to be safe this month, but next month we’re not going to be safe,’” Kiefer said.

“Safety training is an ingrained culture shift in most organizations. It’s a big deal at most places. Everybody is aware of safety. Everybody is concerned about safety. You’re looking out for the safety of your co-workers. You’re looking out for the safety of the facility. You’re looking out for the safety of visitors,” he said, adding there usually is employee engagement on the topic of safety, from maintenance workers to top management.

“That’s the kind of thing you want for wellness. You want people engaged in wellness culture,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer spoke in April at a Workplace Wellness Consortium kick-off meeting, attended by employees from businesses in McLeod and Meeker counties.

His topic, “Igniting the Fire, Fueling the Flame! Creating a Culture of Wellness in the Workplace,” focused on getting employees engaged in workplace wellness.

Treating wellness like safety requires an organizational culture shift, he said, and has to be systematically done all the time.

“You have to look at the principles of how culture changes in an organization,” he said. “If you want to do a culture shift, it can’t be a fad. It can’t be something that we get excited about for two months or six months and then it’s gone. Culture shift requires a systematic approach.”

Benefits to employees, employers

Many businesses have realized the benefits of health promotion, and to curb the costs of rising health care offer workplace health programs to their employees, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ideally, the office should be a place protecting the safety and well-being of employees while providing them with opportunities for better long-term health, the CDC says.

Workplace health programs also include policies intended to facilitate employee health, including allowing time for exercise, providing on-site kitchens and eating areas, offering healthful food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation. Effective workplace programs, policies, and environments that are health-focused and worker-centered have the potential to significantly benefit employers, employees, their families, and communities, according to the CDC.

Start simply

Businesses can start by creating a wellness team that takes the lead.

“You have to have a few people fired up about it and educated about it and driving things behind the scenes. Then you have to have some sort of education. There are a variety of ways to do that. Most people are not educated at all on wellness, nutrition, stress reduction.

If businesses have little to no budget to work with, they could show wellness-related, online YouTube videos to staff and employees in a break room or lunch room once a week. A different video could be shown every week to employees.

“If they spend 20 or 30 minutes a week watching a video, you’re going to educate your employees in a hurry, and it’s not forced. You’d be surprised as to how many people are going to watch it,” he said.

Businesses wouldn’t have to show a video every month, but something wellness related should be done on a regular basis, he said, so people are regularly thinking about wellness.

“You have a broad area to go after to ingrain that culture of wellness,” he said.

To create a wellness culture, some wellness events should be mandatory and others optional, he said.

“It’s always nice to bring in people from the outside (to be a guest speaker), but maybe you have some success stories with people who are at the worksite — coworkers who can share their personal stories,” he said.

Kiefer offered other ideas for businesses to focus on wellness without spending a lot of money:

Send out emails about wellness articles that the wellness team or others find and want to share.

  • Have contests, events
  • Create magnets for employees to put on their refrigerator at home
  • Post signs in the break room or lunch room about wellness, nutrition, healthy eating.
  • Create teams so employees can encourage one another.
  • Serve fresh fruit instead of doughnuts at employee meetings.

A business’ wellness team should track the progress of employees as they make healthy changes, and promote their accomplishments, Kiefer said.

“Almost every factory I’ve been into has a chart on the wall of how many days they’ve had without an accident. I’ve never seen anything posted in regard to nutrition, weight loss, exercise program. Why not graph it? Why not put it up there? Why not put it in the lobby — our employees are doing this, our employees are doing that in regard to wellness. Here’s our progress — we started here, and here we are six months later. It could be collective, departmental, individualized. The limits are the limits of your own creativity,” he said.

Creating a consortium

The newly created Workplace Wellness Consortium that has involvement from McLeod and Meeker county businesses and organizations. It includes an ongoing series of gatherings that welcomes and invites employers, wellness teams and professionals for all types of businesses and organizations to:

  • Collaborate with local workplaces and organizations.
  • Participate in research-based and best-practice learning opportunities.
  • Develop a networking community.
  • Implement wellness activities for personal and professional growth.
  • Establish a culture of wellness in their workplaces.

“What we are trying to do is prioritize health together,” said Judy Hulterstrum, executive director of the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce. “We want to start this workplace wellness consortium. Whether you are a small business or a large business, we can help everyone. What I want is all businesses to be healthy.”

Pam Bagley, coordinator for the Statewide Health Improvement Program in Meeker, McLeod and Sibley counties, encouraged broader participation by area businesses.

“We would like this to branch out to be regional. We welcome everyone,” she said, from small and large businesses and from communities in and around McLeod and Meeker counties.

“We want this consortium to be about you and meet your needs,” Bagley said.

She is seeking more members for the leadership team to organize quarterly meetings, identify areas to address and accomplish together.

“My goal is to help bring some of these brainstorming ideas to fruition,” Bagley said.

Organizations that are working on the Workplace Wellness Consortium are SHIP, Hutchinson Health, Litchfield Chamber, Meeker-McLeod-Sibley Healthy Communities Collaborative, Meeker Memorial Hospital, and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Coming meetings for the year will be in July and October, tentatively scheduled to take place at Bonfire Bar & Grille on Minnesota Highway 22, about halfway between Hutchinson and Litchfield.

“We started off with town hall meetings, and have been building a culture of health together,” said Lori Rice, communications manager at Meeker Memorial Hospital.

“We are going to try to work on our communities to build those cultures of wellness so it makes it easier to make healthy choices. We’ve started the first step by trying to create a worksite collaborative. Bringing all of us together has its advantages. When we’re all working in small businesses or even large businesses, we can learn from each other. We can share resources. We can benefit from planning together. Building a consortium or collaborative is what we’re trying to do.”

Rice encouraged businesses to talk about what they can do to help employees improve their health.

“When you start to be able to walk the talk in your organization, it becomes who you are,” Rice said.