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The before and after pictures say it all. Four members of the Asotin County Health District have lost over 30 lbs. thanks to a new worksite wellness policy that allows staff to use break time for exercise or other activities that contribute to wellness. The district’s employee wellness policy states that workers can combine their two 15-minute breaks and either add them to the lunch hour or flex their start and end times in the office – so long as they use the time in a way that contributes to their health. Employees can use the exercise room equipped with treadmill, elliptical machine and recumbent bicycle, or they can use their time to attend an offsite exercise class.
“We used to have cookies and donuts, but now we have a bin of apples and oranges” says Asotin County Public Health Nurse Lori Lookabill. Staff use sign-up sheets to coordinate lunchtime walks, and many have made changes at home to be more active. Lookabill herself lost 30 lbs., primarily by teaching a Zumba™ Gold class, a low impact aerobic workout for older adults. She is able to use her break time for the class and teaches four days per week.
Staff and the Asotin County Board of Health developed the wellness policy over several years. To create a culture of wellness in a workplace, policy change has to start at the top, with owners and supervisors. According to Shelia Pudists, “It can be a ‘light bulb’ moment for employers when they realize that the employee that is not taking her break is the one they need to worry about.” Pudists is the Washington State Department of Health’s Worksite Health & Productivity Specialist.
Employers who encourage workers to be physically active during breaks are seeing the benefits of healthier staff and a healthier bottom line for their business. Staff who skip regular breaks are not as productive as their co-workers who make sure to get some physical activity during the day. Even brief physical activity or stretching can have measurable benefits, and cumulative results lower health care costs for employers.
Employees need to be supported to take their breaks, and it helps when supervisors slip away from their own desks, or when they suggest that staff enjoy a break outside to enjoy the summer weather.
The culture of wellness also involves policies around worksite snacks, tobacco use and preventative health care. Pudists says, “We’ve gone beyond t-shirts and water bottles as give-away incentives for activity.” Making sure that the vending machines have alternatives to sugary snacks and that food served at meetings provides healthy choices carries an important message to staff.
Featured: June 2011