Employee Wellness Programs Should be Designed for All

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , January 31, 2011

Imagine how a low-wage, manual worker in environmental services at your hospital might view the idea. Maybe that worker has to get up at 4 a.m. every day to take a bus to work, where he’s on his feet all day wrestling with heavy objects. Maybe that worker has a second job to make ends meet, or he’s a single parent with two kids at home. That worker is probably not going to take advantage of your lunchtime Jazzercise class, or spend a couple hours after work running a treadmill.

Bluford talks about how important it is to have top leadership on board, leading your wellness program by example. He is right. However, I would suggest that while any wellness program should be led from the top, it should be designed from the ground up to be accessible for the lowest-paid employees.

Low-wage workers are often the ones who have the most to gain from wellness programs, because studies have shown that health issues like obesity – and all the ancillary problems overweight create -- disproportionately affect lower-wage workers. If you’re going to offer financial incentives for employees to get eat better, or exercise more, it’s unfair not to design programs readily available to everyone on your staff in a practical way.

You want staff to eat better, but do all of your workers have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables, or even a decent supermarket? You’re offering a rebate to cover a partial cost of a health club, but what good is a rebate if you don’t live near a health club, or if you don’t make enough money to sign up for a health club in the first place?

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