Reflections from Visits to Three Manufacturers that Built Cultures of Health

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As jobs continue to be outsourced, employers seek workers who have the skills and “know-how” to run complex manufacturing processes. They also seek workers who are “present” and engaged in their jobs, both physically and emotionally. Our visits to three manufacturing companies highlighted key elements necessary for building healthy company cultures.

First, success is hinged on a commitment by leaders to establish a healthy company culture at all levels of the organization. Senior management needs to be part of the wellness committee and not simply delegate the task to employees who lack the authority to make critical operational decisions.

Second, creating a “culture” as opposed to implementing a “program” was a message repeated throughout our visits. A central element of culture, expressed by employees, is a sense of trust between labor and management. This is experienced in the form of collaborative work groups, profit-sharing arrangements, good medical benefits, fair wages, open communications, and a safe work environment. Interwoven into that culture is the often-repeated mantra: “being healthy allows you to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

Third, a healthy company provides plentiful resources for leading a healthy life. Whatever your personal mission in life – to be a good parent or husband, to contribute meaningfully to your community, to follow your faith or religion, to do good in the world – it can only be achieved when you are not distracted by health problems. As an old proverb reminds us, “Many people spend their health for wealth, and then try to spend their wealth for health.”

Finally, successful programs abound when they directly address the strategic and operational goals of the organization in which those programs reside.  Additionally, they need to directly address and respond to the personal health improvement goals established by workers.  Having a health promotion program in and of itself cannot be the end goal; the program needs to support the company’s mission and vision in a very direct and explicit manner.  When asked why the company sponsors a workplace health promotion program, all employees, including executives and line workers, should have a ready answer – to improve the health and well-being of individual employees, and the organization that employs them.

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

Vice President of Consulting and Applied Research

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