Are Health Professional Worksites Promoting Well-being?

by Jay Maddock, PhD

Mad About Public Health is a series that looks at the health of populations from varying creative and innovative perspectives. This post looks at worksite well-being. You might also enjoy Dr. Maddock’s previous series, From the Dean’s Perspective

worksite well-being

As public health professionals, many of us spend our time trying to get people to be healthier, move more, quit smoking, and perform a variety of other health-promoting behaviors. A study by Reuters found that healthcare workers are a bit healthier than the general population but still suffer from a high rate of chronic disease. Burnout is also common in healthcare professionals with half of physicians reporting symptoms and a third of nurses. While these numbers are very worrisome, they are surprising for anyone who has worked in the field. Any student who has sat through one day of a health behavior class knows that knowledge of health behaviors is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for behavior change. wworksite well-beingork site well-being

Job Satisfaction?

Over the past two decades, the Social-Ecological Model has become one of the leading frameworks in promoting health. As a psychologist, it really moved me and many of my colleagues from focusing on individual-level behavior change to policy and environmental change. While this had a strong influence in creating walkable communities and addressing food deserts, it may have also shifted some of the focus away from the internal circles in the model, namely interpersonal and organization. 

The Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) has reported that nearly half of the public health workforce includes 22% who are considering retiring in the next five years and 25% who are considering leaving in the next year for some other reason. Outside of pay, advancement, workplace environment, and job satisfaction are major reasons for dissatisfaction. Perhaps the most troubling is that millennials, which are already underrepresented in the public health workforce, are also the most likely to be considering leaving. elworksite well-beingl-being

So how can we change this trend? Is it possible to make health professional work sites enticing and healthy places to work? More likely than not, there is some worksite wellness activity occurring right now at your worksite. This may include incentives for completing a wellness examination or online behavior change course, a weight loss challenge, stair campaign, healthy vending machines, or no-tobacco policies. All of these tend to have modest effects on health. A recent commentary argues that a new work site wellness model is needed that focuses only on healthy eating, physical activity, and smoking cessation. They argue that these efforts should be science based and include a focus on policy, systems, and environmental change with the outcomes being behaviors instead of biometrics. While I agree with their recommendations, this type of program may improve health behaviors but will do little to improve retention or workplace satisfaction. The real goal should be to reorient our thinking from worksite wellness to worksite well-being. worksite well-being

worksite well-being

Workplace Well-being

The Gallup organization has studied well-being and derived five different aspects of it: physical, purpose, social, financial, and community. Most of our work site wellness initiatives focus on just the physical aspect of well-being to the detriment of the others. We need a comprehensive approach that addresses the whole person so that they can flourish in their environment. Purpose seems like an area where healthcare professionals should have a strong tie to the mission of protecting and improving people’s lives. But this can get lost, especially for people not on the front line. Are our custodial staff, human resource professionals, administrative assistants, and fiscal officers connected to the work that we are doing? At the university, we have several staff that have limited interaction with students and no idea what many of the faculty’s research projects are. How can we do a better job of connecting everybody’s work to the mission of the organization? How do we better focus on people’s strengths that they bring to the organization? This is also related to social and community. Do we treat the workplace as a community? Are people encouraged to interact with other people at the work site, even to form friendships? Gallup has found that having a best friend at work is one of the most important predictors of being highly engaged. How often have we thought about building community and fostering friendships as a goal of work site wellness programs? Government jobs in public health tend not to have high salaries, and low pay was one of the major concerns voiced in the PH WINS survey. While better pay in the field is certainly important, there are many others things that can be done to help employees with their economic life. worksite well-being

worksite well-being

There are clearly many things that we need to do to improve workplace well-being. However, the data the Gallup is collecting is impressive. Decreasing turnover, increasing engagement, and improving well-being can have real positive outcomes on not only the bottom line but how well we address the mission of our organization. If we can’t look after our employees’ well-being, how can we protect the health of the populations we serve? worksite well-being

Related Reading

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB, is the former Dean of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on over $18 million in extramural funding and authored over 100 scientific articles. [Full Bio]

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