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Leadership, Flexible Work Arrangements Key to Success of Employee Health and Wellness Programs

Agencies earning top marks on recent assessment share their secrets.

Dedicated leadership, adequate resources and promotion of flexible work arrangements are key to the success of health and wellness programs for federal workers, according to offices that earned top marks on a recent assessment.  

Some of the top performing agency worksites on the Office of Personnel Management’s biennial WellCheck assessment, released on Aug. 29, offer on-site services such as health centers, free flu shots, private areas for nursing mothers, gyms, automated external defibrillators and blood pressure stations. The evaluation is based on a scorecard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Agencies were evaluated in 16 areas ranging from their nutrition and weight management programs to stress management and vaccinations offered.

“A healthier workforce can improve productivity; increase employee engagement;  reduce costs associated with healthcare, disability, and workers’ compensation; and contribute to a culture of excellence,” acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert wrote in a memo outlining the 2018 results. 

Bradley Moss, spokesman for the National Institutes of Health, said NIH was ranked in the top 10 because of its “programs that facilitate how work is accomplished in the 21st century,” which “promote recruitment and retention, productivity, employee morale, career well-being and job satisfaction.”

The Health and Human Services Department’s Health Resources & Services Administration, also among the top 10 worksites on the latest survey, offers similar services. “Our health and wellness programs are effective because the people of HRSA are trying their hardest to bring health and wellness to the populations we serve,” an agency spokesperson said.

High-level leadership is another important factor in success. “The management gives 100% support to all of our safety, health and wellness activities,” said Feliz Padilla, museum technician and wellness champion at the Nixon Presidential Library, another top performing agency. “Without their daily encouragement and support we would not have a successful program.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that ensures the safe use of radioactive materials, said its leadership, along with sufficient funding, dedicated staff and workplace events contributed to its top performance. Helping employees “manage the competing demands of work and personal responsibilities” is the goal, said an agency spokesperson.

Managers at NIH and the Health Resources & Services Administration work to practice what they preach since they are at health-focused agencies. “The goal at HRSA is to do all we can to make sure people living in the U.S., whether urban or rural, have access to the health care they need,” an agency spokesperson said. “Having a healthy and engaged HRSA workforce is key to achieving that goal.

At NIH “employees also have the benefit of various workplace flexibilities,” said Moss, which “promote[s] recruitment and retention, productivity, employee morale, career well-being and job satisfaction.” Flexibilities include alternative work schedules and telework.  

The Office of Personnel Management has encouraged agencies to allow telework and issued guidance to measure work-life balance programs. However, several agencies have ignored or discouraged the telework option in recent years. 

Weichert said in addition to enforcing the health policies required by law (such as private lactation space and flexible scheduling for nursing mothers), agencies should implement additional policies to increase work-life balance and provide more wellness options at work. “As work demands rise and budgets tighten, agencies must strategically plan how to achieve their mission and maximize productivity,” she stated.

Of those surveyed, the agencies’ average wellness score improved from 61.5% (176 out of 286 possible points) in 2014 to 67% (191 out of 286 points) in 2018, according to OPM’s data. Other top performing worksites included: NASA’s Ames Research Center, Housing and Urban Development’s Region 2 in New Jersey and New York, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s headquarters, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 Office in New York, the Forest Service’s national headquarters, and the Centers for Disease Control’s headquarters.