Authored by, Tatiana Shnaiden, M.D., Chief Analytics Officer, HealthFitness
Tatiana brings over 15 years of experience in health care analytics. Prior to joining HealthFitness she served as vice president of value optimization for ActiveHealth Management, evaluating health management and clinical decision support. She holds a master’s degree in biostatistics from New York Medical College School of Public Health, and a medical degree from Russian State Medical University, Moscow.
The important role of strong organizational support in creating a culture of health and wellness has been widely recognized. The HERO Health and Well-being Best Practices Scorecard in Collaboration with Mercer© (HERO Scorecard) asks about a range of best practices in organizational support for health, from leadership involvement and methods of communicating the company’s health values to specific tactics such as company policies and the physical environment features that address stress management, physical activity, eating habits, safety, tobacco usage, and work-life balance.
Employees are affected by workplace policies and the physical environment every day. These areas present great opportunities for organizations to demonstrate their commitment to employees’ well-being. Not only can targeting specific behaviors through policies and the environment directly impact an employee’s habits at the workplace, they can also be less expensive than individual sessions with a health coach or adviser. In addition, when such programs exist, supportive policies and physical environmental approaches work synergistically with these individualized programs. Moreover, with the environment and policies “nudging” employees to make healthier choices, a company may direct its investments in reward strategies and communications to other areas of well-being, where additional support is needed.
Most companies (86%) have a strong foundation in providing a safe physical environment, but the latest HERO Scorecard data reveal several opportunities for companies to improve organizational support for health through health-promoting policies and changes to the physical environment.
Table 1. Employer Use of Health-Related Policies and Physical Environment Support for Health
Health-Related Policies Physical Environmental Support
Environment of safety
|Policies to support healthy eating||58%||Physical activity encouraged by features/resources at workplace||68%|
|Work-life balance||57%||Healthy choices available||66%|
|Promote use of community health resources||54%||Stress management and mental recovery areas provided||36%|
|Responsible alcohol use policies||38%|
|Allow use of work time for stress management or rejuvenation||31%|
|Allow physical activity during work time||29%|
It is intuitive that health-promoting policies and physical work spaces operate synergistically, and employers would ideally address both policies and the physical environment at the same time. Yet, only half of the organizations that have completed the HERO Scorecard address healthy eating holistically by having both policies and physical environmental support to promote healthy eating habits. Furthermore, over half of all respondents reported having no policies or physical environment supports to help employee manage stress. Physical activity is addressed mostly by creating opportunities through physical environment (68%), but 45% of all respondents promote increased physical activity through creating a supportive physical environment (e.g., by providing onsite fitness facilities), without an aligned policy of permitting employees to exercise during work time.
Table 2. Overlap in Policies and Physical Environment Support for Health Behaviors
Supports Physical Activity
Supports Healthy Eating
Supports Stress Management
* total summed cells may exceed 100% due to rounding
As employers seek ways to make their programs more effective, the HERO Scorecard suggests numerous specific tactics for embedding health and well-being into employees’ everyday lives. By implementing policies that support employee health and well-being and creating a supportive physical environment, organizations send the message to employees that their health is an important contributor to achieving the organization’s strategic goals.
Data cited in this commentary are based on HERO Scorecard responses submitted through September 30, 2015.