Building a culture of health at any organization can be challenging, but doing so reaps valuable rewards in curbing health care costs and engaging employees in making healthy decisions. In a recent webinar series sponsored by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the health director from Dow Chemical and the compensation and benefits manager at Pinellas County, Fla., shared the building blocks for creating a culture of health - and how employers in both the public and private sector can find the reasons and resources needed to make such an effort successful.

 

Put senior leaders in the spotlight.

Every culture of health must be fed from the bottom up, as well as the top down, which is why leadership buy-in is critical, said Dr. Catherine Baase, global director of health services at The Dow Chemical Company.

According to Aon Hewitt's 2012 Health Care Survey, slightly more than one-quarter of employers (27%) have visible senior and business unit leadership as champions of health - although 15% are looking to add this component.

"Start building a business case by [presenting] information that is concrete and credible that illustrates the value proposition to the organization," she advised HR/benefit professionals looking to pitch a comprehensive health program to the executive team.

A vision of health "needs to be perceived as a priority business asset and has to be recognized as having a big and important impact on the ultimate success of the enterprise. It has to be viewed a critical to the strategy of the organization," Baase said.

Data on how such initiatives will retain employees and attract new talent goes a long way in solidifying leadership support, she said. In addition, Baase noted that benefit leaders should give executives specific action items so they are clear on what's expected of them and how their participation is linked to the initiative's overall success.

David Blasewitz, compensation and benefits manager for Pinellas County, Fla., concurred: "When possible, allow your leaders to be the faces of the initiatives, because there's nothing better for an employee to see that their boss is on board and leading by example."

Blasewitz also advised practitioners to share results from health improvement initiatives with the board and senior leaders as often as they can.

"Demonstrate the strategic focus of your initiatives and whenever possible show some financial or other type of return," he suggested, adding that doing so makes the process smoother the next time HR/benefits leaders approach the C-suite to shift a policy, add an initiative or seek champions for one.

 

Get employees singing 'We are the Champions.'

Only 31% of respondents to Aon Hewitt's 2012 Health Care Survey have active wellness councils or champion networks that meet regularly, with 13% adding such a group in 2012.

Both Blasewitz and Baase said that health champions can help HR/benefits pros in doing the heavy lifting when it comes to building a culture of health.

For example, the supervisor of elections for Pinellas County recorded a moving video on how a mammogram saved her life. Blasewitz and his team used its internal video department to assist similar projects.

He said employers should require at least one champion from each department who can help influence positive behavior, and that managers should mandate that the wellness component becomes part of the champion's overall job responsibilities so it doesn't fall to the bottom of their to-do list.

Baase said champions can tie the health initiative to the importance of shared responsibility, so that employers can "engage people at all levels of the organization to drive a culture of health forward."

 

Put your money where employees' mouths are - target food and tobacco.

Blasewitz said that tobacco and onsite vending policies also are keys to keeping health at the center of the organization's mission. According to Florida law - which prohibits a ban on smoking in public areas, including county property - Pinellas County is unable to implement a smoke-free workplace. Instead, Blasewitz said, he and his team strictly enforce break rules for smokers and encourage nonsmokers to take breaks to reduce stress.

The county also has tried to provide more healthy food options onsite by asking employees what junk food they are willing to give up for balance.

Pinellas County employees also have easy access to fitness equipment through onsite facilities and deals with local gyms. Through wellness grants, the county has installed bike racks and signage for 11 walking paths on campus.

At Dow Chemical, Baase and her team help promote the firm's culture of health through a corporate food philosophy and a tobacco policy, which includes a substance-free workplace policy.

 

Reap rewards, pay it forward

The payback from a healthy culture to the organization can be huge. Since introducing health risk assessments and health counseling in 2007, Dow has seen 90% global participation in the health assessment. Ninety-five percent of employees, meanwhile, responded that the health assessment is a valuable service.

Looking to the future, Baase said Dow Chemical plans to expand initiatives to communities where they operate. The company also plans to increase use of tools such as social networking and technology to propel employee engagement.

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