Defining a Culture of Health in the Workplace

December 3, 2019

The November 2019 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine highlights an article defining the topic “Culture of Health in the Workplace.” The point is made that health promotion vendors appear to be rebranding the existing set of workplace programs without modifying them to align workplace cultures with health.

Webster’s defines “culture” as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” In this discussion, the workplace is the common denominator. Culture, as it pertains to health, is embedded and demonstrated in food choices, relationships, sleep patterns, work life balance, safety precautions, and tobacco use. Culture can be transmitted through formal training provided by leaders and the informal learning that is passed between peers. In any work situation multiple subcultures include unique subsets (i.e., profession, work location, shift) of influences within the broader culture. A workplace “Culture of Health” is “a web of social influences that manifests itself in shared healthy beliefs and behaviors.”

Advantages provided by culture of health not inherent in workplace wellness programs include:

  • Reach the hard to reach. Signing up for a program is not required to reap the benefits of a healthy workplace and supportive environment.
  • Maintain healthy behavior. Unsupportive culture pulls people in the wrong direction.
  • Increase lifestyle change success. Most people do not succeed for more than a brief period. Maintaining new positive practices is easier in a supportive culture.
  • Improve the social climate. It feels good to help others. Joining together to create a culture of health can be life affirming. Improved social atmosphere will have important health and productivity benefits.

There are six spheres of cultural influence: 1) Leadership Support, 2) Shared Values, 3) Norms, 4) Peer support, 5) Touch Points, and 6) Social Climate/Morale.

Considerations for building a positive social climate include choosing uplifting language, do not pass judgement, give employees choices, and recognize that good effort building a positive social culture can be doused by short sighted decisions.

It is vital that leaders support a health culture in the workplace. Remember that the pre-employment process is the beginning of a health and safety program.

OHC is working on programs to make wellness more than a measure of height, weight, blood pressure and blood lipids. Current statistics show that over 35% of people are obese and 70% are either obese or overweight. Identification of at-risk employees with an action plan to provide a culture of health from the beginning can decrease future health care costs and improve productivity with a healthier and happy workforce. Contact Doug Daniel about the OHC services for health and wellness, phone (251) 434-6770 or email ddaniel@occupationalhc.com.

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