Early intervention

by Iain Hopkins21 Dec 2011
High risk employees
Engaging employees around their health, particularly those at high risk, is a sensitive issue and one which employers should consider very carefully. 'High risk' or chronic health risks refer to any disease or health concern that lasts for an extended period of time. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and the like. However, a poorly considered (direct) approach may lead to the employee feeling alienated or threatened, not to mention the risk of discrimination.

McDougall says that best practice suggests all employees should be engaged in issues surrounding their health equally, with clear communication provided around the availability of further support for employees at high risk.

"Access to this support can be facilitated via an 'opt-in' model, where employees take personal responsibility to initiate access themselves. Alternatively, a highly successful 'opt-out' model can be applied whereby the employee is contacted by a third party and informed of their automatic enrolment into a support program with the ability to decline at their discretion," he explains.

Cooper echoes this 'open to all' approach. Peoplebank sends out information about health, and top tips for staying fit. Information and support is also provided around serious illness through partnering with the Cancer Council and similar organisations.

"I think education comes first because we want to help employees. We can offer the corporate plans and the free week deals, and we've had Fitness First come out on site. But it's all about education; once we offer these programs we want employees to actually use it. It's two-prong: education and providing benefits they will actually use," Cooper says.

Just as important, Cooper adds, is how comfortable an employee feels about talking to managers or colleagues about sensitive information. "A lot of it is about creating the environment to talk about it. How comfortable are employees about talking to their managers? We do the Hewitt Best Employer survey and one of the questions is how much do people trust their managers - we came back at around 79%."

Health coaching
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) have been offered by employers for several years - Peoplebank has had one for 10 years - so what's new in third party employer offerings to employees in need? Coaching has crept into just about all areas of corporate life - from executive coaching to cross-cultural coaching. It's no surprise that the coaching concept is now being carried into the corporate health and wellness space. McDougall says health coaching is being used worldwide as an evidence-based intervention to positively modify health behaviours and manage chronic disease.

Unlike traditional approaches, health coaching avoids the prescriptive approach of 'telling' the individual what they need to do to improve their health. Instead health coaching centres around empowering the individual to take control for them self. Ultimately it is the individual who is the subject matter expert - not the coach, as they know the most about their own health, their goals, work pressures, and obstacles. 

"They control the knowledge, but as is often the case, may not control the process. Consequently the coach plays an active support role as a facilitator and change agent, guiding the individual to develop their own personalised action plans," McDougall says.

Healthcare specialist Medtronic has used this health coaching approach for its 38,000 global employees, using Springboard for its 400 local employees. Jane Wagstaff, OHS manager, Medtronic, says that globally the company wanted a program whereby it could assess the health and wellness of employees and implement strategies that could address any issues that arose as a result of those risk assessments.

During the first phase of the program, Medtronic launched an online health risk assessment program to employees, which tied all the company's health benefits together on one website. "We implemented it here about three months ago as part of our Total Health Program. When users click on the Total Health Website they are directed to a vielife [Springboard] sponsored Medtronic website and that's where the risk assessment is," Wagstaff explains.

Employees are invited to complete an online lifestyle risk questionnaire focusing on weight, medical health, nutrition, stress, sleep, activity, lifestyle and job satisfaction. Using the questionnaire results, employees are stratified according to their level of health risk.

Employees were then offered the opportunity to participate in The Medtronic Health Coaching Program - an evidence based coaching program that focuses on delivering positive health change outcomes. The program is delivered via telephonic health coaching sessions from professionally trained health coaches who work directly with the employees.

Employees with high health risks were invited to participate in a 12-week personal telephonic health coaching program. The program focuses on supporting the employee 'where they are at' in terms of their health concerns, goals and readiness to change. Employees scheduled sessions at times convenient to them and that focused on creating sustainable changes for positive health in the future.

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