Novel ways to improve worker wellness input

'Snapshots' and polling feedback

The more employees who participate in occupational health programs, the better the results you'll get. Though this is often an uphill battle, finding creative ways to get employee feedback can help you win it.

"Employee health and wellness is both a science and an art," says Dena Pflieger, global health promotion leader at The Dow Chemical Company in Midland, MI. "Being successful at the latter requires insight into your population."

Every three years, a customer satisfaction survey on health and wellness is e-mailed to a random sample of all employees, not just those who formally registered for a specific program. Employees are asked questions about the scope and quality of programs offered, and barriers to participation.

"We are able to monitor changes over time, and compare satisfaction relative to our other services," says Pflieger.

Focus groups are used to get feedback on specific issues. "In some cases, we learn that there is more homework to do," she says. "In others, it helps us decide which option to use or how to position it for the desired results."

In addition to these more traditional methods, a variety of novel approaches allow Dow to get a clear sense of what workers really think about health and wellness offerings.

"Because of this culture, employees generally trust health services, and are willing to help health initiatives succeed," says Pflieger. "As a result, we get relatively strong response rates and valuable input, with no monetary incentives to do so."

Here are some of the ways Dow gets input from employees:

• A "Health Contact Network" consisting of employees with various roles.

Information on health and wellness programs is disseminated to these individuals through an e-newsletter, an intranet site, in-person meetings and teleconferences.

"Through these contacts, we learn about local culture and resource availability," she says. For example, a standard tip for physical activity may be to join a local gym, but the local contact may know that the nearest exercise facility is 30 miles away.

The contacts share insights into the employees' work experience, such as the unique needs of shift workers. "It's impossible for our staff to be this familiar with more than 300 sites and 50,000 employees, in many countries and languages," says Pflieger. "Our Health Contacts allow us to make the Dow world much smaller, and to 'walk in the shoes' of our target audience."

• Interaction with participants in health-related support groups and employee networks.

"Dialogue with these groups is an invaluable means of understanding 'real life' for our employees," she says. "It also helps us gain peer buy-in and engagement."

The support groups cover topics such as weight management, diabetes, cancer and retiree health. "We use the support groups to pilot new products, such as web-based tools, before investing in them or distributing them more broadly," says Pflieger.

Employee networks include those for women, gays and lesbians, employees with disabilities, and various ethnicities. "We are preparing to use several of the employee networks to help us improve our cancer screening rates," says Pflieger. "They can help us understand why employees aren't getting screened, and how we can overcome perceptions and barriers."

• A "Give Us Your Feedback" polling tool on the company website.

"We typically use it to get a pulse of intended activity or baseline status, related to an upcoming program. This usually gets a 15% global response rate, so it provides us a nice snapshot of the population," says Pflieger.

Since the results are real-time and are highly visible on the company intranet home page, it also provides feedback to the general employee population.

Recently, the polling tool asked employees how resilient they were. Most rated themselves as highly resilient.

"That is prompting us to assess if this feedback is incongruous with other sources that have shown increasing numbers of employees who are reporting negative effects from the level and type of stress they are experiencing," she says. "It may be that those who report negative effects are not those that responded to the poll."