Guest blog by Gail Bennett, Director of the Well City Milwaukee Initiative
Let’s all take a moment to imagine the healthiest environment possible; an environment so pure and healthy that you feel rejuvenated upon entering the space. What do you envision? I see a beach, sunshine, fruit everywhere, healthy salad meals, smoothies, a diverse collection of people exercising in classes or alone, yoga and stretching groups, meditating, getting massages, some heading to the sauna or spa, some working in gardens, some singing with children, people smiling as they walk around and talk about healthy things, and more. Just thinking about these things makes me feel healthier and takes some of my stress away!
Now, imagine if we went to work each day and entered an environment that supported our health goals as we worked through our day. What would that look like? What in your current environment would remain and what would you change? Now, imagine if your home and community supported your health goals. Now we’re talking social support of health!
That is the dream of the Well City Milwaukee movement – a healthy & vibrant Milwaukee workforce that will result in a ripple effect on the health of families and the community.
Is this just a dream, or is it a necessity? The 2015 County Health Rankings show once again that Milwaukee County is second last out of 72 Wisconsin counties when it comes to both health outcomes and health risk factors. And, sadly, Type 2 diabetes is on the rise statewide. This disease is often preventable through healthy eating and physical activity. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, loss of limbs and other chronic issues such as heart disease and stroke. My friends, we need to help each other become and stay healthy. We are all in this together. It is a necessity.
As I write, many of us are working on these issues in communities. We work for nonprofits that are working on healthy corner stores, urban gardens, bike trails, parks, healthy neighborhoods and other wonderful initiatives.
What about our own work environments? Are we taking care of our own? The national Healthy People 2020 and the Healthiest Wisconsin 2020 plans identify the worksite as one of the primary environments to target when helping to create a healthy society. From a population health standpoint, the workforce is seen as its own community. Why? Because employees spend 36% of total waking hours at work. The relationship between health risks and costs has been well documented. It makes sense to address these risks at work from a financial standpoint, and we all know that we are happier and more productive when we are healthy. Wellness at work affects us all and it is critical that we work on this together.
So where do we start? The Wisconsin Worksite Wellness Resource Kit offers a wealth of information, low-cost tools and six fundamental steps to implementing an employee wellness program that will create sustainable change no matter what your budget.
1. Starting up: Simply getting started is often the hardest part of anything new. The most successful wellness programs begin with either an enthusiastic employee who starts a movement with employees or with a CEO who is looking to create a high performing workplace. Either way, the first step is to form a team of champions with a designated coordinator who can identify what your organization is doing well already. Why re-create a wheel if it already exists? Maybe we have a walking program in place. Perhaps we have installed bike racks for those who like to bike to work, maybe we offer fruit at a reduced price or maybe we simply offer health insurance to our employees.
2. Engaging: Begin considering how you will engage employees. How will you communicate with them when you roll out programs? Are people ready to embrace wellness initiatives at work? How do you know? Begin talking to people and listening to their responses verbally and through a survey.
3. Assess: The Worksite Wellness Resource Kit offers a very useful checklist that can be used over and over as your wellness program grows. Use your eyes and ears to assess whether the work environment supports healthy lifestyles. What food do you see during your workday? Is it possible for people to exercise at work?
4. Programming: A 3-pronged approach including policies, environmental changes and activities to support individuals will help to create a balanced program that will help transform the organization and sustain the wellness program into the future.
5. Focusing your efforts: Creating an annual action plan for your wellness program can help you be realistic about what you can accomplish each year given your resources and organizational priorities.
6. Evaluating: Regularly measuring participation, satisfaction, environmental changes or health risks and outcomes is important to keeping your program on track. Employers sometimes create a scorecard to help them track changes over time.
Now let’s get back to our dream. Imagine a city where every employer was committed to providing the healthiest environment possible for employees. Imagine employees, supported in healthy lifestyle choices, working happily and productively. It’s a dream, but let’s work on creating that, Milwaukee – one workplace at a time!
To help realize our dream, I invite you to attend two upcoming wellness events offered through the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee.
Thursday, July 9, 9:00-11:30 a.m. - Make Employee Wellness the Way of Work. I will be teaching foundational steps in creating an employee wellness program and exchange ideas with others. The Wisconsin Worksite Wellness Resource kit will be provided and used as the guide to this training. Click here for more information and to register.
Thursday, July 23, 5:00-7:00 p.m. - NPC Members Networking at CORE/EL Centro.
Topic: Finding Balance, Mastering Joy in the Nonprofit World. Relax and enjoy the view from the rooftop garden and soak up the healing energy of CORE/El Centro, a healing, dynamic, grassroots nonprofit that offers people of all income levels access to natural healing therapies. Click here for more information and to register. Space is limited to 50.
Let’s all keep health in mind as we look forward to our beautiful Milwaukee summer.
Gail Bennett is the director of Well City Milwaukee, a collaborative initiative to create a healthy & vibrant Milwaukee workforce and have a ripple effect on health of families and the community at large. This effort is led by the City of Milwaukee, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Greater Milwaukee Committee and is housed and operated by the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.
Questions? Contact Gail at firstname.lastname@example.org, 414-274-0770 or visit www.wellcitymilwaukee.org