If you watch "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," you know a lot goes into building a house. The ABC show often goes beyond standard building practices as they assemble designers, construction crews and volunteers to create a family's dream home. Their blueprint for success is careful planning and coordination from the initial site preparation to the final inspection.

Follow this example to help your clients have a healthier worksite by building the right environment for a culture of wellness. An environmental assessment acts as the blueprint for constructing or restoring the worksite to a safe, healthy and interactive environment.


Build a safe environment

Imagine a home or office without a solid frame to hold the roof or insulation to keep it warm. It certainly defeats the reason for building it, doesn't it? Creating a wellness program in an unsafe environment defeats your client's program before you even build it. Safety is the foundation for building the right environment that welcomes a culture of wellness.

Poorly maintained exercise areas or onsite gyms heighten the potential for injuries or illness. Simple adjustments like cushioned mats for workers who are on their feet all day, ergonomic workstations and training or stretching programs for those in repetitive motion jobs offer a safer workplace. The changes help lower the risk for workers' comp claims too.

A safe physical environment is just the beginning. Wellness goes beyond physical safety by establishing a healthier environment.


Create a healthy environment

The Home Edition crew often builds homes with accommodations for family members with special needs. No two are identical. The same is true for your clients' workforce, particularly those clients with multiple locations. Different job functions, demographics and communities require different accommodations.

A key component to a culture of wellness is a healthy environment that promotes both physical and mental wellbeing for the entire organization.

For example, besides being uncomfortable and potentially unhealthy, break rooms with faulty air conditioning discourage workers from using them. As a result, do they start skipping breaks? Missed breaks add stress and fatigue for workers, increasing the likelihood of illness, injury or job dissatisfaction. There are even legal obligations, such as break time for nursing mothers, as required under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Other environmental conditions can cause both physical and mental manifestations, such as poor lighting that results in headaches, vision problems or mood-altering effects.

Typically, one of the first things clients think of when they hear "wellness" is good nutrition. Except for those clients with an employer-sponsored cafeteria, few may consider nutrition beyond education. Even if there is no cafeteria, many workplaces provide vending machines. Machines loaded with unhealthy selections have the same effect as waving a lit cigarette in front of a smoker who is trying to quit.


Encourage interaction

The Home Edition designers take great care in customizing rooms for individual family members. The need for interaction and recognition is what makes us human; and a wellness program without an interactive environment soon dies.

A survey of 10,000 employees of Fortune 1000 companies reveals 40% cite "lack of recognition" as a major reason for leaving a job. If your client wants results they must look for ways to encourage an interactive environment that rewards and engages employees.

Adapting to multiple cultures and worksites respects your clients' diversity. A formal employee recognition program communicates your clients' commitment. Published policies, like smoking policies for limiting second-hand smoke show concern for employees' health and support for grass roots programs, just as walking, birthday celebrations and other activities share a sense of community.

Changing behavior is a formidable task. An interactive environment identifies the need for change, engages employees in supporting that change, and provides employees with the tools for success.

Taylor, CWPM, is a consultant and certified wellness program manager for Intercare Insurance Solutions in San Diego.



7 steps to build the right wellness environment

1) Create or use an environment assessment tool

2) Focus on key areas: safety, health and communication

3) Record, track and analyze gathered information

4) Promote and recognize accomplishments

5) Obtain ongoing employee feedback

6) Engage partners and identify those accountable

7) Re-evaluate annually

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