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A (lifestyle) change is going to come: Tips to help workers help themselves
'When people are ready for change jump in.'
Does a diabetic employee attend a lunch and learn but continue to eat an unhealthy diet? Or does an obese worker lose weight and keep it off, avoiding years of costly chronic health problems?
You are more likely to get the latter result if you give individual workers what they need, according to Susan L. Zarzycki, RN, COHN, CM, an occupational health manager at Finch Paper LLC in Glens Falls, NY. "We need to do things on the employee's time," she says. "If you work in a company with 24-hour shifts, you need to make programs available at all hours, not just the day shift."
When blood pressure screenings are done, Zarzycki and another occupational health nurse go to the departments instead of having employees come to them.
What works for one employee, might not work for another, she stresses. "You can't get discouraged if only 12 people show up for a program, because that's 12 people you have helped," says Zarzycki. "Those 12 people may not participate in another program."
Here are ways to get the best possible results from wellness programs:
Offer help during a time of need.
"Grab hold of teaching moments," she says. "Timing is everything. When people are ready for change, that's when you jump in."
A 30-something employee told Zarzycki he was just diagnosed with diabetes, and "was scared to death," she recalls. "I put him in touch with everything I could think of."
She gave the worker information from the local hospital, employee assistance group, a local pharmacy offering free insulin syringes and monitors, and contact information for drug company representatives that at the time provided free glucose monitoring monitors.
Zarzycki also called the man's private health insurance carrier and set him up with a diabetic nurse case manager. "He wanted to tell everybody what we did to help him, so he told his story in the company newsletter," she says. "If you can find a poster child and use their story, that's a wonderful thing."
Offer help whenever an employee comes to you.
"Every time we see an employee in the clinic, in my opinion, is a teaching moment," says Zarzycki. "Ask, 'How are you today?' You can always teach them something. When they engage in that conversation is when you want to take it one step further and get them resources."
Even something as simple as reminding a person to see an eye doctor can result in a medical condition being picked up, says Zarzycki.
Follow up with employees who have made lifestyle changes.
"Even the employees who are really engaged in your programs and have had great successes can fall by the wayside," she says. If you run into an employee who you know is trying to lose weight, for instance, she recommends asking "How are things?"
"A lot of times they will know what 'things' are," she says. "Obviously, you don't want to talk about an employee's medical condition out on a manufacturing floor."
Use claims data to develop programs.
Your wellness programs should be devised on the type of claims you are seeing, says Zarzycki. "You wouldn't want to do a Quit Smoking program if you do not have a large amount of smokers," she says. "Claims data can give you great information with regard to your employees' overall health."
Bring in a local celebrity.
Stretching exercises were always listed on the corrective action report after an employee was injured, but these were rarely done until Zarzycki brought in a well-known hockey player.
"After this local athlete came in to talk to our employees, the awareness was raised on the importance of stretching. Every single person was participating in the exercises," she says.
To raise awareness even more, a local gym donated coupons for a week trial membership which were made available to employees, she says.
Ask managers to be role models.
When Zarzycki walked by a gathering of the senior leadership team, she spotted a big tray of cookies on the table. She pleasantly asked, "How am I going to do a wellness program if you are eating cookies? They are not in the plan," she says. "I found out when the next meeting was and brought in fresh cut fruit and dip."
At any meeting that provides a meal, start with salad and provide no dessert, and offer water instead of soda, she recommends.
Reward workers for sticking with a program.
When Weight Watchers gives an onsite program, the company will reimburse $100 of the $158 cost, says Zarzycki but only if participants attend all 12 weeks of the program. "You want to base incentives on active participation," she says. "You want the employee to change their lifestyle."
For more information on improving participation in wellness programs, contact:
Susan L. Zarzycki, RN, COHN, CM, Occupational Health Manager, Finch Paper, Glens Falls, NY. Phone: (518) 793-2541 ext. 5389. Fax: (518) 793-1872. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.