Creating Cultures of Health in Small Manufacturing Companies

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In December 2013, my team and I traveled to companies throughout the United States to see firsthand how employers have instituted cultures of health within their organizations in order to improve the health and well-being of their workers. The conventional wisdom holds that large employers (those with many resources and large staff) can readily put workplace health promotion programs in place, but small employers, especially manufacturing companies, have a hard time doing so. It turns out that small manufacturers can, and do, have effective programs.

If you think about it, small employers have some advantages that large businesses lack. They have fewer layers for decision-making, they can create work cultures that promote participation in workplace health promotion programs, and their leaders may be visible champions for healthy behaviors.

Our December travels took us to three manufacturing companies headquartered in the north-central region of the United States: Turck Inc., Graco Inc., and Lincoln Industries. During each site visit, we sat down with the company’s senior executives, middle managers and supervisors, program implementers, and a cross-section of workers. The reason for scheduling meetings with so many stakeholders within the organization was to make sure we weren’t just hearing the company “line” espoused by program implementers. We also wanted to hear directly the unique perspectives of the various groups most affected by these programs – employees, their bosses, and the company’s leaders who sign the checks to fund health promotion programs and are ultimately responsible for the financial outcomes for the business. We held separate meetings with each group of employees, which allowed my team to cross-reference observations made from various layers within the organization.

Each of the companies visited reflected a unique profile, but in each organization, a distinct “culture of health” had been created to fit into the overall fabric of the business. The underlying philosophy articulated by people we interviewed was that a healthy employee (defined broadly to include physical, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual health) exudes a positive attitude about work, relates better to fellow employees, has trust in company leaders, and feels valued as a partner in the enterprise. This positive attitude, in turn, contributes to the company’s overall success and bottom line.

In our next few blogs – starting with Turck Inc. – we share our observations about these three small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies, and the insights we gained from examining their programs close-up.

Written by Ron Goetzel, Truven Health Vice President Health and Productivity Research, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Vice President of Consulting and Applied Research

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