Wellness Summit offers tips to make employees happier

Health Care & Wellness

Three speakers at the BizTimes Media Wellness Summit, a breakfast event held on Friday, March 17, at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, spoke about how companies can boost employee performance while making them happier and healthier.

The speakers were Eliz Green, a job stress researcher and motivational wellness speaker; Dr. Jerry Halverson, medical director for Rogers Memorial Hospital-Oconomowoc and the FOCUS Adult Mood Disorders Program; and Dr. John Brill, director of medical operations for The Aurora Network.

Wellness-SpeakersThe theme of Green’s talk was “What’s missing from your wellness program?” Over the past year-and-a-half, Green has been researching the causes of on-the-job stress. She said she originally approached her research with the idea in mind that most employees who were stressed on the job had an out-of-whack work-life balance. Her goal was to pinpoint a sweet spot that would reduce employee stress.

But what her research revealed was much different than what she anticipated. The No. 1 cause of stress wasn’t work-life balance issues, but miscommunications between managers and staff regarding productivity and accuracy expectations.

Green said she studied many companies going through periods of transition, such as blending staffs after an acquisition, where the problem was pronounced. She found employees who were forced to change their routines and the types of programs and technologies they were using as a result of the transition had elevated stress levels.

“Any time you change a technology, there’s a learning curve,” Green said. “But people are left to feel they don’t have time to adjust to that new technology because they’re being judged and they might be fired.”

Even though most managers tell their employees they understand it will take them a few weeks or months to get used to the new systems being implemented when it is first launched, unless that message is repeated consistently for a long period of time, employees fall victim to paranoia, Green said.

“You can have all kinds of wellness initiatives, but if the messaging isn’t consistent from the top down, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Brill’s talk centered around three major and common health problems among employees: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Brill said those three health complications are major drivers of employer health care costs.

He emphasized the importance of implementing office health and wellness programs to keep employees at risk for the diseases in the “pre stages.” By that, he meant encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits among employees so their pre-diabetes, for example, never turns into full-blown diabetes. Not only is this strategy better for the overall health of employees, but it also can greatly reduce company health care costs.

Brill recommended company leaders do things such as get rid of the soda machine, or replace sugary drinks with sparkling or flavored water. He also recommended small changes that promote more physical activity throughout the day, such as putting up signs to signify where the staircase is to encourage employees to march up to the office instead of taking the elevator.

And Halverson discussed the importance of good mental health in the workplace. Poor mental health can manifest itself at work in absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work but not fully functioning due to symptoms).

“They can also lead to irritability, which can cause trouble with your team working together and it also can cause increased substance use, which can cause a lot of the same issues the mental health issues do,” he said.

Workplace mental health issues are very common. Among the mental health challenges employers commonly face are depression, anxiety and substance use. Employers can battle these issues proactively by creating a mentally healthy workplace encouraging camaraderie and teamwork, Halverson said.

Employers can play an important role in helping the employee get the help he or she needs, so both parties can achieve their goal – getting the employee back to work.

“Obviously, you can communicate with the employee but there are certainly ways to do it that are more accepting and other ways to do it that feel more stigmatizing,” Halverson said. “Have this conversation. But you have to have it in a certain way.”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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