Mind-body-spirit connections lead to happier, more productive employees.
by Lesly Bailey
Employers are embracing a holistic approach to health with an eye to increased productivity, happier employees, less turnover and a thriving workforce. They understand the importance of bringing all components of health together.
Innovative wellness programs are looking at the impact of stress, drug and alcohol abuse, nutrition and lifestyle on an employee's mind, body and spirit. Employers are striving to offer options that address issues preventing employees from living healthy, full lives.
Pam Johnson, wellness champion at Franciscan WorkingWell, says, “We are bridging the gap between disease management and wellness.”
As a certified functional medicine practitioner and holistic health practitioner, Johnson brings an all-encompassing mindset to her role.
“I go out and talk to CEOs and HR directors to discuss where they are having issues. We sit and strategize to find out about the corporate culture, what the mindset is, and we put together a kind of prescription for the company,” Johnson says. “I come in as a practitioner and see the company as a patient. It's really about diagnosing the problem, taking into account the symptoms and seeing where we can intervene and design a program. The leaders in functional medicine, who work in corporate wellness, often follow this paradigm.”
WorkingWell offerings focus on an overall holistic approach addressing nutrition, stress, mindset and exercise.
“It's about getting to the root cause … the whole future of medicine is now in the gut. There is a connection between the health of your gut and your brain. If you aren't taking care of your gut, you may not be able to think clearly,” says Johnson, who has a background in integrative nutrition and highlights how identifying food sensitivities or understanding the physiology of stress can make an impact.
“There has been so much research on the impact of the gut microbiome in the works for so long … when you realize how you care for your gut can determine behavior, productivity, how you handle a situation … it's just amazing.”
She leads lunch-and-learns presentations and posts up-to-date information available through an online portal.
“Employers want to provide new information when the old is not working. It's a fresh start. There's a whole layer of education rolled into the portal,” she says. “One piece of good information from a trusted source can change lives.
“One of the biggest stresses employees have is when something is going on with their families. If they have information they can take home that can change themselves or their families, that's when you see an improvement in the overall quality of life. One person's morale changes and that energy spreads.”
For more than 15 years, Mary Wellnitz, along with Jim Wellnitz, has been providing Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance consulting as well as drug and alcohol testing and Drug-Free Workplace (DFWP) services.
“We look at substance and alcohol use and abuse from the big picture point of view. We consider this the bottom line: that if employees are thriving mind, body, spirit- holistically-that approach boosts the team, themselves and the organization's performance and everybody wins,” she says.
As owners of LaPorte-based Figment Group Inc., the Wellnitzes and their team help employers not only develop strategies for a drug-free workplace, but also help connect employees who need help to local resources.
“We offer different pieces of a long-term strategy and initiatives depending on the risks they are experiencing: Have they seen low morale, employees coming in with complaints … What are the issues?” she says. “We offer policy development and program oversight that sets the tone for a drug-free workplace program. We provide employee education and awareness. It allows for employees to be more knowledgeable about substances and the effects of their use … they can apply that knowledge to their family and home life.”
Mary Wellnitz says that 75.2 percent of current substance abusers and 90 percent of alcohol users are employed, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency.
“The question is: ‘Are they working for you?' It starts with a (drug testing) policy; the foundation is a policy. Supervisor education also helps support the drug-free workplace program. How they can identify reasonable suspicion, what are the signs and symptoms and how they can constructively communicate that an employee may not be fit for duty that day and do it in a non-confrontational way,” she says. “The policy needs specific details and needs to be defendable. It protects the employees and employer … It's not a punitive approach.”
Having policies in place is seen as a corporate responsibility for companies that want to sustain healthy, talented and engaged employees, Mary says.
“Good employee well-being boosts organizational health. Healthy workers equals a healthy organization equals healthy business performance. Isn't that what all employers want? Whether they are small, medium or large,” she says. “Wellness and safety programs have expanded to embrace employee well-being.”
The latest programs or initiatives are doing tests beyond the areas of pre-employment, random, after accidents or reasonable suspicion to include promotions to safety or security sensitive positions or when employees return to work after an extended leave.
“Employers are improving access to treatment and recovery and taking employees back. More employers are adding prescription and synthetic drugs and medical marijuana to their profile detection piece for testing,” she says. “Education is being targeted even to the teenage workforce. I just had a call the other day … ‘What can we teach our teenagers about safety?' There's drug abuse, texting while driving and wearing seatbelts as topics.
“No one program suits all needs, and it needs to be customized for the culture and issues and objectives of the employers.”
Anton Insurance Agency's Leigh Westergren helps connect WorkingWell to employees as a servicing agent for a number of municipalities in Porter County, including the Town of Chesterton.
“Wellness has a myriad of components from onsite screenings to smoking cessation programs to corporate wellness challenges,” she says. “Having these programs enables employees to have a better understanding of what truly constitutes health. It's so much more than just taking meds. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking and not eating properly, affect productivity, morale, the whole system … by having these types of programs we are addressing the entire system and not just a select group.”
Westergren says lunch-and-learns spotlight key topics such as functional medicine.
“We've taught our employee-base about how nutrition has an impact on everything in your body. It's like an iceberg: What you see on the surface is a small degree of what is happening inside. The physiological, mental and emotional components of health are oftentimes overlooked,” she says. “We really work hard with Pam (Johnson) to come up with new topics, and she goes out into the community to look for topics and speakers.”
Westergren says the wellness component nurtures a sense of caring that encompasses more than just compensation.
“They really bring value to the employment environment. Employees feel they are being taken care of and it's not just a paycheck,” she says.
Stephanie Kuziela, town of Chesterton clerk-treasurer, says the partnership with WorkingWell also allows employees to track their wellness progress through the portal and earn incentives.
“They can input what kind of meals they are having, how much water they are drinking, if they are sleeping enough and they can earn a certain dollar amount back depending on their tier and how much they pay out,” she says. “We also do free wellness tests and from the results we can tailor the speeches. We can see what is affecting employees and what incentives we can offer to help them be healthier.
“We want to keep them around for a long time. We are blessed to have very low turnover. We want to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.”
Methodist Hospitals offer an employee assistance program both internally and externally as an affiliate provider to businesses and municipalities in Northwest Indiana. Sue Heaton, director of the EAP at Methodist Hospitals, says EAP's evolution includes helping employees stay healthy beyond just the physical aspect.
“We are looking at the whole body now. Employee health affects productivity, absenteeism. When employees are tardy, they're not just late, but it's often a symptom of a bigger problem,” she says. “We don't always know the back story (of their personal lives). EAP is a confidential service where they are able to talk through some of those things.”
Heaton cites the mind and body connection when it comes to coping with stress and its effects.
“We have many conversations on what to do when you are stressed and how to still make good decisions and take care of yourself. We have lunch-and-learns on stress reduction and relaxation techniques,” she says. “Here at the hospital, stressors build and that can affect a unit. Sometimes we talk to the staff in general and not just the individual … they may just need to feel like they have been heard and that will alleviate some of that workplace stress.”
EAP is like an insurance policy in that you don't always think about it until you need it, Heaton says.
“Sometimes, we just want to remind employees that it's there,” she says. “There are high levels of stress in the workplace with our constantly ever-changing world where all businesses are trying to survive. Everybody is trying to keep up with the status quo of their families and keep the securities that their parents had–or they thought they had– and they see what is happening in our communities and workplaces and they internalize this.
“With the stresses in work life and family life, we can help them survive with the motivation of the wellness program and EAP.”
Dr. Christopher Sayers, staff physician with LaPorte Occupational Health, emphasizes how the benefits of wellness offerings are truly strong for both sides.
“Employers are not only looking at it from an insurance standpoint, but also a business standpoint. With absenteeism and presenteeism–where employees are here and not functioning–employers have a vested interest in keeping them as productive as possible. By helping employees be healthy, they in return get more productive people,” he says.
“Keeping employees happy and healthy is the world of occupational medicine. When you can positively impact people's lives and keep them healthier through their employers, it's a win-win.”