Early intervention

by Iain Hopkins21 Dec 2011
"A number of employees have been contacted and 46 at the moment are in the health coaching program," says Wagstaff.  "The one-on-one coaching identifies unhealthy behaviours and the coach and the employee work together to develop an action plan and set appropriate goals. I've received anecdotal evidence indicating that employees are really excited about the strategy. It's very proactive. We've got a lot of employees who travel regularly for work and it's tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you're jetlagged."

Wagstaff notes that the process is completely anonymous, with Medtronic only receiving general information such as how many people are using the program. She concedes that broaching the topic of health with employees is "tricky" and is instead keen on targeting people through general awareness programs.

"What's good about Medtronic is we've made the investment and once you start you can build on that, and there are so many other strategies you can put in place to build on what you've already done. Once they've done the health risk assessment and you've gotten their attention, they are more engaged than they were before."

As an added enticement to focus on health, Medtronic now offers employees $400 to spend on anything health related: ballroom dancing lessons, tennis rackets, Zumba classes. "We had a benefit in place where we offered subsidised gym memberships, and you get a percentage of people that take that up. But the feedback was that a lot of people don't want to go to the gym. When we expanded it to $400 to spend however people wanted - the uptake has been remarkable." 

The key, she adds, is to engage employees with the process. "One of the key benefits we've found from this is it's helped to engage our employees. You're busy; resources are at a premium - so a strategy that engages your employees has so many benefits, not just for the individual but for the organisation as well. And because not everybody does it, it can actually differentiate you as an employer and you can then build on the momentum," she says.

While Wagstaff concedes that it's "just a small thing" to offer employees, she believes this kind of support is becoming increasingly common in Australia. "Employers in the US and other countries must pay for medical costs as part of employment, so clearly they are further ahead than we are. However, I believe organisations that take an interest in employee health really see the benefits of doing so," she concludes.

Lasting change
What's the key to making sustainable change in the way an individual handles their health & wellness habits?

According to Brad McDougall, it's a threefold process:

  1. Ensure they have a clear picture of where they want to be, and to set meaningful and achievable goals
  2. Assess from time to time: a) Their readiness to change b) The importance they place on making the change c) Their confidence in embarking on change. If any of these elements are low then attention must be given to improving these prior to attempting change, whether it be upfront initially or downstream, as these can significantly sabotage success and consequently act as de-motivators. For example, if a smoker is not ready to change or if quitting is not of high importance to them then they are unlikely to succeed in a Quit Smoking program. 
  3. When faced with temptation it is helpful to reflect on the reason they want to change, and focus on the emotional reason why change has been initiated.

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