The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) understands that part of its duty to the state is to be a model employer. Just as they say in pre-flight safety instructions on an airplane, you should always secure your own oxygen mask before helping others—the same can be said for CDLE. CDLE works with businesses and individuals to build a healthy, thriving workforce and economy. Therefore, to successfully assist and guide workers and workplaces, they must first attend to themselves.
“As an organization, we’ve set a goal for ourselves to lead by example,” says Miriam Evangelista, Premium Cost Containment Advisor for the Division of Workers Compensation at CDLE. “We want organizations from across the state to be able to look to us to understand what means to be a healthy organization.”
This starts with the integration of employee health and safety programs and policies. “Prioritizing employee health and safety is essential to any thriving business. It has the power to improve worker morale, reduce injuries, and reduce time off of work taken because of injuries or health-related issues,” says Evangelista. “Enhancing workplace health and safety can also demonstrate how much you value your employees.”
In November 2019, division directors and health and safety champions at CDLE joined as Executive Director Joe Barela signed the departments’ new integrated health and safety policy, officially renaming the department’s Wellness Committee to the Total Worker Health® and Safety Committee. The integration of safety and health is the foundation of Total Worker Health (TWH) and essential to CDLE’s holistic approach to becoming a model employer.
Within CDLE, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) is working as a model division, demonstrating what the structure of a TWH program can look like in a government office. Kristin Corash, DVR Director, is a strong advocate for health and safety integration. Kristin and DVR’s sub-committee (the GO-Team) are setting the tone for how to run an integrated program and piloting activities for future department-wide promotion.
One challenge DVR is facing—mirrored by CDLE and many other organizations—is its geographical spread. How can an organization with 28 offices, operating in five regions across Colorado, establish consistent participation in health and safety programs across dispersed offices? “We’re promoting programs that can adapt to fit each individual office,” says Evangelista. “There might be three people in one office and 30 people in another. They don’t all have the same amenities available to them so we want to create programs that are accessible to all, if possible.”
As a framework for these programs, DVR has set quarterly S.M.A.R.T. goals for activities and employee participation. This quarter’s theme is Move, followed by Nourish, Balance, and Drive. For this quarter, the “Get Up, Get Moving” challenge encourages participants to find creative ways to get in short bouts of activity throughout the day.
CDLE has found Health Links™ to be a great partner in its integration of health and safety. Deidre Johnson was co-chair for CDLE’s wellness committee and was growing frustrated with the lack of direction and results from the team. “It wasn't until we got Health Links that I really felt like our committee established itself and found more meaning in our work,” says Johnson. “Now that we have Health Links, I feel like we are focused and have a plan of action.”
For Evangelista, Health Links advising sessions with Program Manager David Shapiro have been a highlight. “Our advising sessions give us direction and purpose,” she says. “The program has been really valuable in providing not only a goal-setting process but research-informed resources and education as well!”
When asked what advice they would give to an organization looking to create a healthier, safer, and happier culture, Corash echoed the importance of purpose and direction. “We’re walking down this road and making small steps that have a real impact on our employees. It's been incredibly helpful to have direction and projections about how we get there.”
Written by Laura Veith, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Health Links and the Center for Health, Work & Environment based at the Colorado School of Public Health.