Workplace wellness programs are becoming an indispensable feature in the benefits plans of many corporations, as more than two-thirds of U.S. employers now offer them, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And research shows these programs really do make a difference: In addition to reducing overall health care costs for companies, wellness programs provide a host of other elements that contribute to worker satisfaction, including improved productivity and employee retention.
Creating a vibrant culture of health and well-being within a company is no small undertaking, nor does it happen overnight, says Dr. Oyebode Taiwo, 3M’s Global Medical Director. He knows firsthand what it takes to create and sustain this kind of corporate culture. His job is to foster a healthy work environment – not only for the company’s corporate headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, but for its 90,000 employees in more than 70 countries around the world.
Here’s what he had to say about how he helps to create a culture of health within his organization.
Dr. Taiwo: Every day, I’m tasked to protect the health of our employees. It’s my job to help ensure we get people back to their homes safely and that nothing we do at work negatively impacts their health. Everything we do is evidence based: We look at the stressors in the workplace – the physical, biological, chemical and psycho-social stressors – and we ask ourselves, ‘how do we protect people from having adverse health effects from their experiences at work? How do we enhance their well-being? How do we make people better than when they came in?’
By finding the answers to these questions, we can increase productivity, improve morale and we can also boost the likelihood that employees will want to stick around long term.
Dr. Taiwo: It is. There’s no way this can be accomplished by one single team within the organization. It takes top-down support, commitment from cross-departmental teams, dedicated resources, educational tools and a broad array of strategies that engage employees and encourage participation. At 3M, it’s a shared responsibility with many stakeholders: The Environment Health and Safety (EHS) group, Human Resources Benefits organization, and also the network of 175 doctors and nurses in corporate offices and manufacturing facilities around the world. We all work together to help implement our vision of improving the health of employees globally.
Dr. Taiwo: One of the things we do as an employer is provide the physical structure to ensure people can be healthy. Those things include designating bike trails and walking trails around campus and even within our buildings (very necessary during cold winter months!), offering ergonomic office options and providing onsite fitness centers where we offer yoga and cycling classes and access to personal trainers.
We also have policies in place that allow a culture of health to flourish, including special programs for pregnant women and designated spaces for people to breastfeed or meditate onsite. We encourage people to take time out of their day to workout at the gym, and we provide preventive services like a free onsite mammogram service and free flu vaccinations.
Health incentives programs also are integral to creating a culture of wellness. We have our employees do a risk appraisal of their health every year to help identify risk factors they need to work on, and we give them a rebate on their health insurance if they work on those things. Right now, we have participation rates of more than 80 percent for employees. Our goal is to extend those same rebates to our employees’ family members.
Another important element is the educational piece. We work with internal partners to help educate employees to take advantage of all the programs we offer – so they have the information they need to make choices that help improve their lives and the lives of their children and families.
Dr. Taiwo: When you think about the larger concept of sustainability, the goal is to ensure your assets are there for the next generation. And the most important asset a corporation has is our people.
So how can I make sure that this company is here 70 years from now for the next generation of employees? By having people with institutional knowledge who are here to mentor that next generation. And how can I ensure people are here? By giving them the opportunity to make choices that lead to a healthy lifestyle.
But health is not just the absence of disease. It’s social well-being, mental health and physical health. If you have healthy employees, you improve productivity, you improve morale and you retain – and sustain – your employees long term.
To me, there’s no question that employees, their families and communities around the world all benefit from sustained health.
Dr. Taiwo: We are focused on the implementation of a true global approach – where the efforts in the U.S. are being successfully activated in other facilities around the world. We’re striving to better understand cultural and health issues that face particular countries and regions and provide the right kind of wellness environment specific to those areas.
Common chronic diseases are still common diseases, no matter where you are in the world. But, in some communities, there might be more pressing issues. For example, prior to coming to 3M, I was consulting for a corporation that was doing a lot of work in Africa. There, the average employee walked five kilometers to get to a bus each day that would take them to work. After work, they’d walk the five kilometers from the bus stop back to home. But at any given point in time, employees were out sick due to malaria. In that region, training needed to be focused on preventing malaria, like the use of mosquito repellent and nets, antimalarial drugs, insecticides and so on.
One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to global-wellness programs. As we move forward creating a culture of health globally, our jobs become focused on empowering teams around the world to identify the nature of the local health issues and the barriers to care in their regions. Then, to help determine what’s structurally available and support those local wellness teams as they ascertain the best way to implement the right wellness programs for their society.