How healthier workplaces happen

June 26, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

Employers – don’t expect it to happen all at once. But you can make your workplace healthier and help your employees move in positive directions. It just requires determination and creativity.

When your business is focused on helping people who face heart disease and cardiac problems, like the Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota, you’d think healthy workplace habits would be second nature.

“We have tried many approaches, and we do have a good perspective on holistic approaches to health, but there are challenges that come with finding programs that fit a diverse workforce that works shifts across 24 hours each day,” said Mary Beth Russell, Avera Heart Hospital director of food service and nutrition.

“We continue to try a number of programs, and we find they work best when we seek input from our teams as well as find challenging competitions that naturally lead people to seek new approaches to their health.”

Not just weight loss

Russell said Avera Heart Hospital does have advantages in that many of its employees are familiar with the hospital’s mission, they offer food service on site, and they have a head start on things when it comes to nutrition. She is one of three registered dietitians on staff.

“Our dining model, a hybrid known as ‘Prairie Mediterranean’ has been a great fit for our facility and our patients,” Russell said.

Avoiding dictates and deadlines is another step in the right direction.

“In nearly any business, your most valuable resources are the people functioning as a team.  For your people to be at their best, they must have the tools to best do their jobs,” said Mick Gibbs, Avera Heart Hospital president. “Routinely, you might think that means supplies, equipment and instruments, but we feel the health of our employees is a principal tool for effective work.”

Quick fixes don’t exist

Changing the mind-set will not happen in minutes – or even months. But sticking with it pays off, Gibbs said.

“We face most every challenge as a family. It’s one of our defining characteristics, and we jealously guard against threats to our culture,” he said. “Many programs for employee health look at short-term gains, promotions and surface-level tactics. We never ignore the necessity of a solid foundation of fidelity, so trust can be established. That’s when a personal commitment to one’s health becomes possible.”

Another tool that’s handy at Avera Heart Hospital is experienced professionals who go out and teach wellness to businesses.

“Eating healthy and exercising are employee responsibilities, but creating a healthy environment that fosters good choices is the responsibility of the employer,” said Lauren Cornay, an Avera Heart Hospital registered dietitian who provides outreach education to businesses in the region.

“Employers can make a significant difference with things like 10-minute chair massages, visits from a therapy dog or walking meetings with the CEO. Programs can also focus on the more challenging lifestyle struggles like stress, anxiety and communication.”

Russell said another resource is likely sitting in the room with you right now.

“Use your employees and their ideas – it will show you’re listening and that you’re willing to try things out, not just superimposing some ill-defined plan on the workplace,” she said. “But as you use their good ideas, make sure you’re measuring their effects. Those stats can show you what’s working – and what might not be.”

How healthier workplaces happen

“Eating healthy and exercising are employee responsibilities, but creating a healthy environment that fosters good choices is the responsibility of the employer.” Here’s some insight from Avera Heart Hospital on how to do just that.

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