Lessons in How Communities Can Promote Healthy Workplace Practices

I’ve just returned from the Vermont Worksite Wellness Conference, held in Burlington, where I had the honour of giving the keynote talk and facilitating a workshop on creating healthier organizations. The conference featured the annual Worksite Wellness Awards, presented by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. My big take-away is that the State of Vermont has figured out how well-crafted public policy can foster healthier workplaces, businesses and communities.

Vermont was an early leader in promoting healthier workplaces. The Awards are in their twentieth year. Clear signs of progress are that this year, the conference had 430 participants and 92 employers were recognized for excellence in promoting a culture of physical, social, intellectual, emotional and occupational wellbeing.   These employers are small and large, in all sectors of the economy.

What has enabled this success?

First, there is strong leadership from public policy makers. Governor Peter Shumlin told the conference that nothing is more important than empowering employees to be healthy and well at work. Actions to promote worksite wellness are critical to larger healthcare reform goals, he went on to emphasize, particularly reducing the high cost of healthcare in the US. And the Governor made it very clear that Vermont’s success in healthcare reform — it has embraced Obamacare — depends on grass-roots efforts by employees in workplaces around the state.

Second, business leaders also walk the talk. A good example is Don George, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue and Shield of Vermont, which provides health benefits to about 80 percent of Vermonters. Don received the 2015 Vermont Business Leadership Award for worksite wellness given out at the conference. He and his team have developed a wide range of resources that employers can use to take a more preventative and holistic approach to employee health. As Don pointed out, future progress requires ‘building tighter cultures’ in every organization in the state so that employee wellness and business performance are seen as twined goals.

And third, when political and business leaders show genuine and sustained commitment to achieving worksite health promotion goals, more and more employees get involved. The level of employee-led fitness activities is impressive. So too are other innovative initiatives, helped by modest government support, for workplace gardens and on-site breastfeeding facilities. Above all, the combined impact of these activities spills into the community and everyone benefits.