Originally Posted By NWI, Monday, December 5, 2016
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Working for a well-recognized company renowned for its achievements in the health and wellness field had to be one of my all-time career goals. So you can imagine my excitement when I got the call to say I was successful in my bid in becoming the next Wellness Coordinator for Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane. I had initially heard of and admired this program back in my university days. While my focus was more about personal training and musculoskeletal rehabilitation in those days, little did I know then that I would eventually become the coordinator of this program, and working in a role that made me far more satisfied and happier than ever before. It felt as though my career up until that point had only ‘prepped’ me for such a role.
On the outside, the Greenslopes Staff Wellness program was an impressive award-winning program (Best Health and Wellbeing Strategy twice and runner up once) achieved by the implementation of a diverse range of health and wellness activities that took influence from the Hewitt 7 dimensions of wellness model. A program that grew from its initiation by a 4th year student from the QUT School of Human Movement Studies as her 4th year, 12-week final practicum (internship) in the early 2000s.
On the inside was a busy little team of Exercise Physiologists and Health Promotion officers, working tirelessly and frantically to make an indent in the staff culture and encourage any sort of engagement from the busy hospital workforce.
The diversity of the program extended far beyond what I originally knew about the program; and yet, we were still able to add further depth to the program across my five years with the company.
The resultant program consisted of:
My early days in the Greenslopes Wellness program seemed fruitful. A busy and dedicated five-person wellness team engaging with a 2500+ workforce. The majority of the workforce were aware of and utilized the wellness program regularly, particularly the wellness education modules of injury prevention, nutrition, body awareness workshops. We were constantly busy juggling the facilitation of the above-mentioned list of activities. We had aprominent and supportive voice at the top executive table. This assisted us in remaining engaged by the workforce via top-down influence, and we were trusted and strongly supported in our attempts to try new initiatives. Little did I know then, that in fact this influential executive member was the lynchpin of the entire program.
- Pay for service onsite gym equipped with a full range of cardio equipment, free weights, and pin-loaded resistance equipment (all uniquely fitted with the innovative My Wellness system from Technogym), as well as plyometric, abdominal and stretching equipment
- Onsite yoga, Pilates, meditation, and fitness group classes
- Injury prevention education and activity sessions
- Pre-work warm up education and activity sessions
- Team unity and building sessions that promoted movement and social connection
- Onsite Exercise Physiology service, delivering rehabilitation and work strengthening of injured workers, and oncology patients
- Onsite Cooking classes and Nutrition and Dietetic service
- Onsite Physiotherapy service
- Offsite and confidential access to free 24/7 counselling service
- Lifestyle recreational courses
- First aid and CPR workshops
- Onsite Corporate chair massage reward sessions, and in-house massage service
- Onsite Financial planning, mortgage brokering, bank @ work, health insurance, and superannuation services
- Facilitation of the corporate team for various Community fitness events i.e. Gold Coast Marathon, Bridge to Brisbane, Triathlon Pink, Kokoda Challenge, Colour Run
- Promotion and delivery of community health initiatives (i.e. R U Ok Day, Breast Cancer Awareness, Movember, Diabetes week, Stroke week, Quit Smoking campaigns)
- Delivery of wellness program promotion at monthly new staff orientation sessions
- Annual step/pedometer and bi-annual weight loss challenges
- Weekly educational and promotional wellness newsletters
- Facilitation of the Annual onsite wellness expo
- Development and production of Staff Wellness Guide publications
- Management and upkeep of our own intranet site for hospital staff.
As I’m sure you’ve worked out by now, that there is a recent unfortunate conclusion (of sorts) for this program (or at least a disassembly of its former great framework).
Reflecting back on this impressive list of services and activities (mentioned above), it’s hard to believe that any top executive would want to downsize such a program, particularly in a period where other organisations are expanding their staff wellness commitments, and particularly considering the program having the reputation of being leaders in this field. The frustrating thing is being aware that the program (even in its final days in its former
framework) still surpassed the majority of programs currently being run by large businesses by means of innovation, diversity, and engagement. But corporate Wellness 101is proving a measurable return on investment, and in this particular case it came down to bottom line
financials. And I get that. We all need to ensure we are moving forward and are maintaining a profitable bottom line. However for a program with an initial goal to be a service for staff and not a revenue stream is really a tough challenge. Deciding to disassemble a program based on financial outcomes and excluding the value of the indirect return on investment, the creation and transformation of healthy workers from unhealthy workers, and the flow on effect thathas on their co-workers, family, community, the reductions to sick leave, worksite injuries, staff morale, staff productivity, staff turnover (or what I prefer staff retainment) etc… what chance does a wellness program have?
Executive support is critical
Well the chances are high and in your favor, when you have an executive and leadership team who understand these associations, and are willing to model a wellness culture in their own immediate work environments, which in turn inspire their colleagues and workforce to foster this among their respective work departments too.
Whereby yoga, meditation, and stretching sessions and the presentation of wellness program statistics were regular agenda items at leadership team meetings; wellness representatives were committee members in a number of hospital committees, and executive team members were regular attendees at a standalone wellness committee meetings; whereby wellness program induction sessions were typical items on a new managers orientation schedule; whereby a hospital wide staff health risk assessment was costed into strategic planning budgets and business plans and actioned to ensure the wellness program was maintaining relevance and direction in addressing identified staff health issues; where
executive leaders were regular attending members of onsite fitness services, who participated in community team events alongside their workers… How could an organisational wellness culture not be fostered from this? This was once a reality for Greenslopes Private Hospital.
From my recent experience, I liken the impact of an executive turnover event on a wellness program to a perpetual hand-me-down jigsaw puzzle. A piece always seems to get lost in hand over.
Losing our ‘lynchpin’ or our greatest wellness ambassador from the executive team, an executive leader who understood the benefits of investing in wellness strategies, who could educate their fellow executive peers about these investments, and help ensure that future strategic planning and operations maintained a wellness representation, and the inability to fill those shoes in their replacement, left a substantial hole in the wellness sphere, and subsequently altered the wellness culture of the hospital from there onwards.
The wellness program became more about checking boxes than maintaining the innovator and industry leader title we had so proudly claimed. Wellness activities began to disappear and be discussed less from leadership meetings, and eventually the workplace culture began to change, seeing less investment in staff development and wellness initiatives. Wellness orientations were dropped from new manager inductions, and team leaders/managers became too busy to investigate how wellness could work for their teams, let alone afford the staff hours to put towards wellness in-service sessions. Wellness became an onsite gym, corporate chair massage rewards, and a corporate fun run team; well at least that’s how the program became to be perceived by the majority of staff.
Despite the wellness team being downsized (to just 2.2FTE), the change in strategic direction of the hospital, and the diminishing executive support to invest in the program, the wellness team’s enthusiasm for making an impact on hospital wellness culture and connecting with staff, remained unwavering. We found ourselves continually remodelling our programs’ approach to become less intrusive be trustingly just as effective in an effort to appeal to more managers and encourage more engagement.
Ordinarily a team that is downsized is encouraged to also downsize their scope of practice. We were that’s for sure. But with a disappearing wellness culture that could potentially (and evidently did in the end) threaten our future, I was determined to hang on to all facets of the program. The reputation of the wellness program and the depth of diversity it had achieved was something to proudly hang on to. Our (the wellness team) philosophy was that if we could make genuine connections with even one member of staff in whatever avenue of the program, then we would be returned with patronage in other dimensions of the business. This rang true for us. New gym memberships, greater participation in corporate chair massage services, and even greater participation in team fun run events, all eventuated from initial hallway conversations, post wellness education session conversations, casual customer patronage, free meditation sessions and return to work initial rehabilitation consultations.
And so, this returns us to the ongoing debate of Wellness return on investment. Yes, Participation statistics are direct proof of engagement. And yes you can report on how many people you get to a meditation class, how many people participated in a step challenge, how many members used the gym today. However, how do you report on the thousands of hallway conversations you have with staff; where those conversations might actually be relating to that staff member seeking help and advice for a family member, and who in turn can now worry less and focus more on their work because their problem that clouded their every thought has been heard and even solved? And now that employee decides to stay in their job, their morale improves, they take the brave step to start exercising at home, all because they feel that the hospital values them enough to provide such a service, and friendly fellow staff members (wellness staff) who genuinely care about their wellbeing? Is that not an indirect impact which consequently provides financial gain for the business? Is that not Value on Investment?
The Greenslopes Wellness program engagement statistics (on paper) actually seemed to improve over the course of my five years, fluctuating between 40% and 80%. We certainly had significant growth in uptake of some activities like step challenges (300+ participants), fun run events, massage services. And while we (the wellness team) believed that every engagement statistic in any of the wellness programs or services was positive indicator that staff were taking action in becoming more well, it was the diminishing uptake of injury prevention education and work strengthening interventions by the departments that seemed to impact us the most. This I believe to be a direct consequence of the changing work environment instigated by a change in corporate strategic direction.
A wellness program is evidently only a small snippet in the big picture of an organisation, and although I believe is integral in the success of worker productivity and eventual financial gains for the business (as outlined above), in my experience it is often viewed as an expendable item and seems to take the hits first. Its sustainability security relies heavily on the right executive support. One who understands that that small snippet is essential to the big picture. One who values their own total wellness and understands how each dimension can influence another and one who with this knowledge sees a place for it in their work environment for the betterment of their workforce and evidently their business’s bottom line. And one who is willing to be the iconic stone that starts the ripple.
Sadly the program has now been disassembled to just a shadow of its former glory. An unsupervised onsite gym with restricted access, community health campaigning (R U OK Day and Movember initiatives) and team fun run events, all added to a select few employee’s existing work portfolios instead of the dedicated wellness team/staff that formerly promoted and facilitated these operations.
This case study demonstrates the impact that executive leadership has on the successes and downfalls of their worksite wellness program and ultimately its bottom line.
To this day I’m very proud of the program we and the previous wellness staff helped create. The accolades we received for the program are trivial in comparison to the satisfaction and reward received in witnessing someone overhaul their life (instigated by a simple conversation with you or your team), and who now have essentially become a new wellness ambassador creating their own ripples in their own world, is second to none, and one that I will profoundly miss.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (Human Movement Studies) in 2001 from QUT, Michelle initiated her health, wellness, and fitness career in personal training and group fitness instruction at a local gym before becoming an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and subcontracted by KINNECT rehabilitation for the delivery of return to work and work strengthening musculoskeletal rehabilitation for WorkCover Qld. She then worked in health promotion and lifestyle education with Health By Design, before accepting a role with UQ Sport at the University of Queensland that saw her become the assistant manager for the UQ Sport & Fitness centre. Five years ago she became the Wellness Coordinator for the Greenslopes Private Hospital Staff Wellness Program. At present she is stay-at-home mum to a 10-month-old and has a passionate interest in nutritional medicine around which she is looking to pursue further study in this area.