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EAPs: Eight steps to a culture of health

October 5, 2011
by Edward R. Jones, PhD, and Richard F. Paul, MSW, CEAP
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Because each organization has its own culture (enterprise wide, regionally, and locally) with custom programs and individual strengths, each organization’s path to a culture of health will be unique. However, the following steps can help a knowledgeable EAP practitioner guide an organization through this process:

1. Conduct an organizational opportunity assessment. One size does not fit all when it comes to the shape and timing of creating a healthy culture. Motivations and resources vary among companies. Before getting started, assess the opportunity for the organization. Consider the economic and social impact of poor health, the organizational and individual readiness to embrace a healthy culture, the most prevalent health behaviors and conditions and the key drivers of health status and health care system utilization.

2. Develop a strategy for creating a healthy culture. Use the results of the opportunity assessment to demonstrate the savings from reducing the total cost of poor health and poor health care usage. At the same time, you can identify the potential value of building on current strengths. Create a vision of how managing health becomes part of “how we do things around here.” This vision often builds on other established norms of culture and strategy, such as safety, quality, customer service, sustainability, or Six Sigma. 

3. Gain leadership commitment and engagement. Present your strategy proposal to the senior leadership team (and other leaders and managers throughout the organization). Position health management as “the right thing to do for our business and our people” and as a core component of business strategy, budgeting, and planning. Build your arguments around the interests and values of your audiences. Share stories of the potential life-changing impact to employees and tangible evidence of the value of positive organizational outcomes.

4. Build teams. Consider who should have a role in planning, implementing and evolving healthy culture initiatives. Identify a program leader, planning team, national implementation team, and committees for each location. Enlist support from throughout the organization, reaching to groups such as IT, communications, clinical (medical director), legal, vendors, and community resources. Consider the foundational work that needs to be done to facilitate organization-wide change:

  • Winning support from leadership that improving health and productivity is part of everyone's job.
  • Aligning leadership to take comprehensive approaches to building a healthy culture.
  • Expanding the skill and scope of staff members in their professional roles and their informal roles as program “sparkplugs.”

5. Create an implementation plan. Work with the team to build consensus around:

  • Program components and resources
  • Target audiences, including family members
  • Resources and funding
  • Deployment timeline
  • Key communication messages
  • Key metrics for success and any mid-course program changes or corrections
  • Integration and use of data-include health plan, prescription drug, vision, dental, disability, health risk assessment, biometric screening and absence data
  • Vendor integration-share data, coordinate interactions with employees

6. Mobilize and deploy resources. Think beyond the resources of the organization as you plan for deployment. Be sure to:

  • Build coalitions of stakeholder groups within the organization and in the community.
  • Engage and mobilize providers to practice shared decision-making and to educate the organization's employees and family members about key health decisions.

7. Measure and evaluate. Evaluation enables program leaders to learn from the past and improve future outcomes. Key questions for evaluation include:

  • What were the outcomes?
  • Did we achieve our goals?
  • Were there outcomes or impacts we had not anticipated?
  • What lessons did we learn? Which of these lessons are transferable?
  • How will we improve our processes?
  • How will the data be integrated for future fact-based decision making?
  • How, and with whom, do we share the results?

8. Plan for program evolution. Keep the program fresh to sustain employee engagement over a long period of time. Continually look to enhance and augment the program offerings.

Edward R. Jones, PhD, is Executive Vice President of the Commercial Division for ValueOptions. Richard F. Paul, MSW, CEAP, is Senior Vice President of Health and Performance Solutions within the Commercial Division. For more tools and ideas about building a culture of health, visit www.valueoptions.com/cultureofhealth