Health Education Class in the Workplace

As a native New Yorker, playing co-ed softball in Central Park is simply a rite of passage. A few years ago as I was preparing to bat, a small boy ran up to me very intrigued by what we were doing. But like any child, he was full of questions. His first question was, “Why are boys playing softball, not baseball?” I laughed ready to dismiss him. His next question was, “Why don’t the adults have to wear helmets while batting?” Now I was the one intrigued. He had a good point. We should. We are old enough to understand the risks and have more responsibilities than ever with work, kids, and bills. We should be protecting ourselves more than ever. His last question was, “What are you waiting for?” I stood standing confused staring at him. He continued, “Shouldn’t you be stretching?” I was shocked that this child just called me out on everything that I should be doing! As he ran away, probably to go squish bugs, I realized how absolutely correct he was. We are taught so much information when we are younger about how to appreciate our bodies and our health; but, when we get to adulthood, when it really counts, we forget all the information we learned in Physical Education and Health class from when we were younger. This moment was when I realized things have to change!

And other people agree with me on this trend. Corporate wellness is becoming a bigger and bigger business. Now, corporate wellness can mean many different things, but in this instance, we mean it in terms of bringing health education classes into the workplace. We all tried to figure out how that trig class was supposed to prepare us for life in the real world but instead we actually missed realizing that it was health class that was really preparing us.

As employees, it’s our productivity that really keeps an organization moving. But there are so many obstacles in the way as we grow. In 2013, the American Heart Association reported that 154.7 million Americans over the age of 20 are considered to be overweight and/or obese. And according to the Fort Wayne study conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University in 2006, 87.5% of health care claims costs are due to an individual’s lifestyle. These lifestyle decisions are aiding the rise of wellness programs as proactive information.

Organizations are now being faced with the challenge of stepping into employee’s lives, not just to show that they care about their staff, but also for the fluidity of their bottom line. Retaining good staff and keeping health-related costs down are very important factors to growing businesses during this economy.

In the past, human resources or an office manager used to call in a health fair. They would have vendors come in and offer services. Maybe even have medical staff perform a physical. These programs do have value, but unfortunately, no follow through. Employees get back a piece of paper stating their results, maybe signifying that they had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and are told to follow-up with their doctors on their own time (which they could have done on their own from the beginning.)

And this is where the shift in proactively taking an interest in employees is now being made. More and more organizations are implementing in-house programs that can help their staff realize these changes, rather than just speaking about them. About 62% of companies have some type of wellness offering (Society for Human Resources Management, 2006.) As many companies are looking for extra benefits and team building exercises to not only show value but also to give back to their staff, health education classes are becoming commonplace and across all industries. Not only are many of these programs available at little or sometimes no cost to the actual institution, but services can also be matched to the actual needs of that particular industry. The benefits from these programs have been known to put dollars back in the pockets of the business by saving costs of workers comp, sick days, and on-site injuries. Employers have experienced increases in employee morale, improved employee health, reduction in workers compensation claims, reductions in absenteeism, and increases in productivity (National Business Group on Health, 2005.) The low cost offering and high reward benefit also makes these programs appealing to non-profit organizations.

According to The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in April 2005, research from a collaborative study between Dartmouth and Brown University showed that in a study of 100 people, people placed with a supportive “buddy” were successful in weight-loss, while those without either dropped out of the study or did not reach their goals. The information from this study is just as applicable with a group of co-workers as “buddies.” Having a weekly health education class where people from various departments come together creates two levels of support.

The first level of support is with the fellow co-workers. When “class” is not in session or when the coach is not in the building, the sight of other co-workers helps remind one of the goals they are committed to through what they are re-learning. Usually changes can also be seen in more tangible ways through office kitchens and people’s lunch options. these non-verbal cues stick in one’s mind. Offering classes such as, “How to read nutrition labels,” “Setting SMART Goals,” “Reducing stress and creating a healthier work/life balance,” and “Cooking for a family on a budget” are just a few topics that truly educate the listener for a lifetime. The second is the relationship with the coach. The trust and confidentially is really created by this person. One-on-one time should always be made available and good group facilitation skills are mandatory in this setting.

With Americans spending more time at their offices than at their homes, it is imperative that organizations get involved in the health of their employees for both financial purposes and brand loyalty. Employers need to be careful in supporting their staff rather than controlling their choices. Facilitating this help has benefits that will outgrow the initial investment and have employees working at peak performance for the organization that supports them.

You may reach Rebecca Pfaffenbach by calling 914-469-8647.

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