Be your own PR person: It could get you promoted, even in a down economy

(Editor's Note: This is the first of a three-part series on how occupational health professionals can survive in a down economy. Future issues will cover low-cost ways to obtain skills that are especially needed now, and steps to take if you suspect your company is going to outsource occupational health or cut programs.)

With companies looking to cut costs anywhere they can, it's a bad time to be "out of sight, out of mind." "With the changing job market and economy, anything an occupational health professional can do to justify their position is critical," says Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, clinical assistant professor for the Occupational Health Nursing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"It isn't enough to just increase your value. It has to be communicated — orally, in writing, and in graphs and charts — that you are on top of the latest issues in the field," says Randolph.

In difficult economies, scrutiny over what you do becomes "even more acute," says Don R. Powell, PhD, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a wellness program provider based in Farmington Hills, MI. "The more you can let others see the value you provide, the more secure your job will be. You have to be very, very proactive."

Powell recommends that you "be your own public relations person, and embark on a major visibility campaign. I believe in a saturation effect. You can't publicize too much." When he gives talks, Powell asks audience members if they remember certain advertising jingles from 35 years ago. "And they do, and it's because we heard them over and over again. Imagine if you could do the same sort of messaging for the services that occupational health provides."

Here are some ways to make your presence known:

• Contribute to the company's newsletter.

"The occupational health role has changed over the years to be more of a wellness provider, but employees may not have kept pace with that," says Powell.

If your company doesn't have a newsletter, put one together yourself. "There is simple publishing software which allows health education to look like a newsletter," says Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, president elect of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses.

However, a less time-consuming approach is to contribute to an existing company newsletter if there is one, by featuring a program or service in every issue with your photo displayed, to provide education and make yourself known to employees. "There are vendors who will provide newsletters for distribution periodically, and customization is also available," says Campbell. (See resource box on p. 131 for more information.)

• Make connections.

"Partner with other events in the company to create value around those activities," says Campbell. "Highlight the value of employee productivity and health." She suggests:

— Offer a health risk assessment at open enrollment for health benefits.

— Hold a benefits fair to display all of the services offered by occupational health. Collaborate with the human resources staff to showcase all the benefits offered, including maternity programs, disease management programs, mental health services, health education, and fitness programs, Campbell says.

— Partner with the cafeteria to promote healthy food choices.

• Set up a "stop by" table.

Hand out fliers and brochures on upcoming activities in a busy lobby or the cafeteria. "This is another vehicle to let everyone know that that the occupational health department stands ready to help any employee work on specific lifestyle issues," says Powell.

• Share success stories.

"Ask managers and employees about programs and the value they have to them and the company," says Campbell. "You can then use the quote or story — with permission, of course — as a testimonial for the program." Campbell says that one of the company's senior vice presidents endorsed the "energy and resilience" programs, which are mental health services that are promoted to employees as a way to help them deal with change effectively, lessen the negative impact of stress, and become more productive.

• Provide a questionnaire.

Solicit input from employees as to what activities they would like to see occupational health offer, advises Powell. The questionnaire should give them choices, but also have space for other suggestions.

• Have a presence on the web.

Powell recommends working with information technology to set up a link on your company's Intranet site to list all the different services you offer. Your web site link also could have a "health tip of the day" and a weekly recipe. (For more information on obtaining these, see resource box, left.)

• Interview top management.

Campbell suggests you ask them the following:

— What keeps you up at night?

— What are your people concerns?

— How can occupational health help you accomplish your business goals?

— What services do you value that are offered by occupational health?

" If they don't know any services, there is an opportunity to educate," says Campbell.

SOURCES/RESOURCES

For more information on demonstrating the value of occupational health, contact:

• Kay N. Campbell, EdD, RN-C, COHN-S, FAAOHN, Director, Global Health and Productivity, Glaxo SmithKline, Research Triangle Park, NC. Phone: (919) 483-2185. Fax: (919) 483-8535. E-mail: kay.n.campbell@gsk.com

• Don R. Powell, PhD, President and CEO, American Institute for Preventive Medicine, Farmington Hills, MI. Phone: (248) 539-1800 Ext. 221. Fax: (248) 539-1808. E-mail: dpowell@healthylife.com. Web: www.healthylife.com.

• Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, Clinical Assistant Professor, Occupational Health Nursing Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Phone: (919) 966-0979. Fax: (919) 966-8999. E-mail: susan.randolph@unc.com

• The American Institute for Preventive Medicine offers printed and electronic newsletters in two-, four-, and eight-page formats that occupational health nurses can customize. One thousand copies of the four-page newsletter is $.36 per copy in paper and $.21 per electronic copy. For more information, go to www.HealthyLife.com and click on "Products."

The institute also licenses several health tip products. Under "Search by Topic," click on "Health Tip-A-Day Products." The Health Tips CopyWrites Binder contains 610 tips that can be used for e-mail, newsletters, handouts, or paycheck stuffers. The cost is $249.

A booklet titled HealthyLife Weigh Menus and Recipes has menu plans for 28 days and sells for $4.95 per copy. Under "Search by Topic," click on "Weight Control/Nutrition," and under "HealthyLife Weigh Menus & Recipes Book," click on "More information."

Shipping and handling is 9% of the order total. For pricing information or to place an order, call (800) 345-2476 or (248) 539-1800. Fax: (248) 539-1808. E-mail: aipm@healthylife.com.