Blogs: Focus on Current Thinking

The Growth of Employee Wellness Programs

Published Online: Friday, August 9, 2013
If your organization is anything like mine, you have experienced the promotion of an increasing number of employee wellness initiatives. Some of these are policies that prohibit or limit certain behaviors (ie, anti-smoking or tobacco-cessation policies) while others try to incentivize employees to adopt good behaviors (ie, lower health care premiums as a reward for meeting certain health targets).
I was reminded of the different strategies being employed to promote employee wellness by an April 5, 2013, Wall Street Journal article. The article describes wellness strategies being employed by a range of companies, including how CVS is requiring employees to either submit certain health data to the company or pay a fine. The methods described are based upon the principle that individuals are more likely to be motivated by the prospect of losing something (money) than by the possibility of receiving a reward (bonus). Therefore, organizations are beginning to impose financial penalties on their employees for being unhealthy or failing to comply with certain programs.
Whatever the type of program, the end goal is to make employees healthier, based on the logic that this will lead employees to have more positive outlooks as well as reduce overall healthcare premiums and absenteeism. These last two results can directly impact an organization’s bottom line.
Reading the Wall Street Journal article and observing initiatives my own employer has implemented got me thinking about the fact that, as pharmacists, we need to adopt healthy behaviors if we want our patients to be healthy. I have always wondered how much impact a pharmacist who is overweight or out of shape can have when counseling patients to exercise more or lose weight.
While I recognize that many people face legitimate challenges to staying in shape, I still want to share a few easy ways to incorporate healthy practices into your daily life. While these steps might not be a part of employee wellness programs, if adopted they can have a positive impact on your health and improve your overall outlook.
  1. Take the stairs when you have the opportunity, especially going down. I can’t begin to tell you the number of people I see who take an elevator down instead of walking a single flight of stairs. This is an easy way to build exercise capacity during the workday.
  2. Limit, or eliminate, your intake of sugary drinks during the day. I remember sitting in the office of my local state representative a few years ago. On her desk sat a soda bottle that contained a significant quantity of sugar. She told me that the bottle was an illustration of how much sugar is contained in a single soft drink and that she was using it to help promote a ban on soda machines in elementary schools. I was amazed at this simple demonstration and have limited the amount of soda I consume ever since.
  3. Take your lunch to work. While this requires extra time in the morning, I have always eaten healthier and limited my portions by packing my lunch rather than eating at the cafeteria or a restaurant. This is especially helpful on those days when an unexpected crisis arises that spans the usual lunch period and would otherwise cause me to choose a quick, unhealthy option.
  4. Find an accountability partner. Having someone to walk with on a regular basis, to provide support when you are tempted to abandon your diet, and to challenge you to weight-loss goals can help fortify your dedication to wellness. Whatever the outcome, attempting to improve your health with someone else makes the endeavor easier, more enjoyable, and will keep you committed longer.
Whatever strategies your workplace uses to encourage employees to become healthier, there are steps you can take on your own to achieve the same goal. Whether you want to change your behavior or not, I think we owe it to our patients to model a healthy lifestyle. Our professional calling is to make patients healthier, whether through medication or lifestyle modifications. Having a pharmacist who is working to be healthy could be just the incentive a patient needs to alter their own poor life choices. Maybe one of your patients can even end up being your future accountability partner.
I would be interested in whether you have an opinion on this article or any strategies you have found useful to improve your health, either on your own or as part of a workplace initiative.
Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, Pharmacy Times Health-System Edition Editor
Blog Info
Stephen Eckel is an avid reader on issues impacting the practice of health-system pharmacy. His writings discuss recent articles or books he has read, with perspectives on how they relate to the current practice of health-system pharmacy. He enjoys hearing feedback from readers of his work, even if they do not agree with his opinions.
Author Bio
Stephen Eckel received his bachelor of science in pharmacy and doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed a pharmacy practice residency at Duke University Medical Center and then joined UNC Hospitals as a clinical pharmacist. Eckel also holds a master's of health care administration from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Eckel is a clinical associate professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education and is the division's vice chair for graduate and postgraduate education. He is also director of graduate studies and is in charge of the 2-year master of science program in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in health-system pharmacy administration, which is hosted at multiple sites across North Carolina. He is associate director of pharmacy and director of pharmacy residency programs at UNC Hospitals, where he leads and develops a dynamic group of patient-care providers. He has worked with almost 200 residents in his career. Eckel is a board certified pharmacotherapy specialist.

As an innovator and entrepreneur, Eckel spearheaded the development of UNC Pharmacy Grand Rounds with ASHP and launched ChemoGLO LLC with Bill Zamboni, PharmD, PhD. He is the editor of the health-system edition of Pharmacy Times and a passionate supporter of the role of the pharmacist in patient care. He regularly publishes his research and is frequently asked to speak around the world on these issues.

Eckel has also been very active in the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. He has been elected chair of the Acute Care Practice Forum and a board member. He has served many years in the ASHP House of Delegates. He was also the chair of the ASHP Council of Pharmacy Practice from 2009 to 2010. His is a Fellow of ASHP and APhA.
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