I recently attended a conference where I had the chance to listen to two employees of the Cleveland Clinic talk about the “culture of wellness” that the clinic is creating for its employees. They explained the approach was simple. They focus on four areas that can be impacted during the workday: tobacco, food, body and mind.
The tobacco part was fairly obvious. Smoking was banned on Cleveland Clinic’s campus years ago. After all, who wants to walk through a gantlet of smoking employees to enter a health care facility? Many employers have followed suit and have banned smoking on their campuses.
A little more daring is the way Cleveland Clinic is addressing the kinds of food available in the workplace. Of course the deep fryer was removed from the cafeteria, but Cleveland Clinic went even further in an attempt to challenge some of the most cherished of workplace traditions. Sugary soft drinks were pulled from the vending machines and cafeteria, and even the birthday cakes and candy jars, so prevalent throughout the American workplace, were discouraged. In their places appeared healthy snacks, such as nuts and fruit.
Sure, it made some people mad, and some still sneak in contraband Coke and candy corn, but it has gone a long way to send a message to Cleveland Clinic employees that, from the top down, the mission of wellness and self-responsibility is being taken seriously.
While Cleveland Clinic is on the leading edge of promoting a culture of wellness among its employees, it is following a path already taken by most employers to promote a culture of safety in the workplace. The high cost of workplace injuries long ago drove employers to develop and enforce procedures to prevent on-the-job accidents and injuries. Today, no one thinks twice about dawning protective gear and adhering to strict rules for moving about within a dangerous work environment.
Why, then, does it seem strange for employers to set similar guidelines around employees exhibiting behaviors in the workplace that have been proven to be just as debilitating and costly in the long run as an industrial accident?
Employers that are serious about implementing consumer-directed health plans owe it to their employees to protect them from the health dangers present in their work environment. I am sure employees complained when they were first instructed to wear hard hats, safety glasses and ear protection. But now these are all treated a simple tools of the trade, and our work places have become safer because of them.
So why should employers not look for and then eliminate similar workplace health hazards – even if they are disguised as has a tempting triple-chocolate bunt cake? Pass the bowl of walnuts, please.