Health Links (HL): What does being a healthy workplace mean to your organization?
Westminster Medical Clinic (WMC): As a family practice medical clinic, health is important to all of us. We take care of patients every day and promote health. It becomes more important than ever that we promote employee wellness and take care of our own health. We need to be at our best in order to be able to provide the best care. I believe that our staff have heard this and ultimately know it is true, but it is hard to make that shift and help our staff truly walk the walk and take care of themselves as they would our patients. We remind people to take breaks, provide employee benefits—including monetary contributions to their health insurance and three free sessions with a behavioral health provider—encourage them to take their PTO, offer free massages, organize fun parties and semi-annual office retreats, and give gift card incentives. But at the end of the day, are we truly supporting, encouraging, promoting, and embodying employee wellness? By taking a stand and becoming a Health Links Certified Healthy Workplace™, we make that commitment to continue to work at it. We recognize its importance for the work we do. While we recognize that it does not happen overnight, we are committed to doing our best to champion health and safety in healthcare.
HL: How does your organization create a culture of health, safety, and well-being for employees?
WMC: Since starting the program, we have worked hard to integrate employee wellness into what we do. Instead of making it a separate thing, which often takes more resources than what we have, we are trying to weave it into our daily practices as an organization. Whether it is leading the staff in breathing exercises before a meeting or encouraging staff to share their health stories, we are working towards integrating employee wellness into our culture and day-to-day operations. I believe we are starting to see the cultural shift.
We have also worked to integrate employee wellness into our hiring practices. As we hire new staff, we look for those who value employee wellness and are up to the challenge of leading the efforts amongst their peers. Having employee wellness and health as a core component of our hiring will help us further integrate employee wellness into our clinic operations and culture.
Another step we took to create a healthy culture was when we remodeled our office. We made a space for relaxation and chose paint colors that embody a healing and calming feel. We also put up a ‘kudos board’ next to the wellness room where employees can show gratitude and appreciation for one another by placing a kudos on the board for a fellow staff member. It has been wonderful to see this small effort take off and change the conversation amongst staff. It gives people the opportunity to recognize and appreciate those special moments when someone made a positive difference for them. I really believe this is something that can change the culture.
HL: How has Health Links helped your organization?
WMC: We are new to Health Links, so we probably have not taken full advantage of the service. I attended the August event, which I enjoyed. I specifically went to the Leadership Lab where I enjoyed interacting with other businesses who value employee wellness and we were able to share strategies and best practices on leading our organizations to success. I also enjoyed a recent call with an advisor who gave us some specific ideas on activities we could do with our staff that would be manageable given limited resources and time. We were also connected to another clinic with similar challenges and I was able to get in contact with them by phone and learn more about how they promote employee wellness, which I found helpful. We got some great ideas from them. Being a part of the program has helped us be accountable to our mission and values. Having an advisor to report to gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we have done and identify where we want to go next.
HL: What changes have you seen among your employees, their families, or the surrounding community as a result of your program(s)?
WMC: I was really excited the other day when one of our Medical Assistants got a group of staff together who were interested in learning more about nutrition. She organized the group together for a Friday lunch and as the health coach, I assembled a lesson plan on nutrition to share with them. It was nice to see this effort generated by a staff member where previously it was often initiated and strongly encouraged by me or our practice manager. I was really impressed with how she made a health goal and included others on it to not only support her in the goal but to help those interested as well. To continue the momentum, our lead MA and I hosted a ‘make your own overnight oats’ bar the other day, which was really successful. A lot of employees went home and taught their partners how to do it. It was cool to see something we do in the office translate outside the clinic into their personal lives.
HL: What tips or pieces of advice would you give to a business looking to create a healthier, safer, and happier environment?
WMC: I think it just takes time and finding the right fit for your organization and employees. It is not a one size fits all approach. Initially, when I started this position, I tried organizing yoga classes at lunch or group walks throughout the day or even weekend events. I did a newsletter, step challenge, supplied healthy veggies in the breakroom, provided recipes, handed out fit bits... the list goes on. I threw a lot of activities out there to see what would stick and what people would be interested in. Some activities were more successful than others, but with the menu of options, I did not feel that the culture had shifted. It was a lot of trial and error and I was starting to feel like an employee wellness drill sergeant. My journey here has been figuring out what to persevere on and keep trying to see if it sticks (maybe that yoga class will catch on if offered consistently for six months) or whether we need to go back to the drawing board and have a new approach (maybe the yoga class just isn’t the answer). I surveyed staff and asked for feedback but I did not feel I had a strategic direction or sustainable approach. With all of these activities, I was starting to operate outside of my capacity and I was headed towards employee wellness burnout.
We joined Health Links to help us define our strategy and course. Over the past year, I have found that at our clinic, it is best to meet people where they are. Instead of offering veggies in the kitchen for people to take home along with a recipe, we found great success meeting our staff where they are at by teaching staff how to make an easy, affordable, healthy lunch while at work. Ultimately, I am not sure if I have figured out the answer on what core activities to stick with or how to find the right strategy, but I do think we are seeing the culture shift that I had been waiting for as more staff start to talk about employee wellness and share their health goals with each other and even their families.
My advice would be to get to the know the staff, their interests, strengths, and challenges. At the same time, assess your own capacity and resources. By looking inward at yourself and at the staff, you can find the best match for what programs and activities work best for you and the organization because it is not a one size fits all.