The overall health and performance benefits of engaging in regular physical activity and exercise are numerous and undeniable. But, it is difficult for most people to find the motivation, time, and information needed to realize these benefits. For this reason, providing structured physical activity/exercise opportunities in the workplace could have positive impacts on public health and economic productivity. The key challenge is to identify barriers and enablers to implementing such initiatives given unique needs at the societal, organizational, and individual level. Below is a short summary of the article by Waterworth et al. Culture, management and finances as key aspects for health workplace initiatives. Health Promotion International (published online ahead of print), 2016. The study was designed to identify common barriers and enablers to implementing policies or programs that enhance worker health and wellness.
There is growing interest in workplace health and wellness programs due to the potential benefits they offer to employers and employees. Although every organization has different needs, research suggests that there are common barriers and enablers to implementing successful workplace health and wellness initiatives. This study aimed to identify factors that have the greatest influence on successful implementation of “healthy workplace initiatives” in small, medium, and large organizations.
Health promotion professionals, occupational health and safety officers, human resource managers, educators, and other related staff representatives from 31 small (0-19 employees), medium (20-199 employees), and large (200+ employees) organizations in Western Australian were interviewed by the research team. Each organization had existing workplace health-related programs or policies. Interviews began with general questions about the programs/policies and the workplace culture. Answers to these general questions were then used to follow up with more specific questions about barriers and enablers faced during the implementation process.
All interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim, and thematic analyses of the transcripts were conducted using qualitative research methods. From the analyses, the most commonly reported factors that influenced workplace health-related programs or policies were uncovered.
In total, 43 factors were identified that affected the implementation of workplace health-related programs and policies. Many of these factors varied in accordance with unique needs and wants of the different organizations. However, the researchers were able to identify the most influential factors by defining 7 broad categories that would encompass the unique demands of each organization.
The MOST influential factors were:
- Organizational Culture: Implementation is facilitated when attitudes, practices, and social norms regarding employee health and wellness are positive, but is impeded when they are negative or neutral.
- Multi-level Support: “Champions” from all levels of the organization are required to endorse, promote, support, and participate in the implementation of the program. It is especially effective if these champions have personal interests and positions within organization that are aligned with the program and policy goals.
- Commitment to Change: Within medium and large organizations, implementation is impeded when the patience and effort required to transform organizational culture is not afforded. Change takes both time and effort.
- Collaboration with Industry Partners: Forming strategic alliances with health and wellness professionals and/or organizations is often reported as a critical implementation enabler.
- Financial Resources: All organizations must consider the realities of their financial position and the general economic climate for successful implementation.
- Physical Environment: Implementation is facilitated when work places, stations, spaces, and systems are conducive to healthy behaviors (e.g., cooking amenities, bike racks, fitness equipment, walking meetings, etc.). The program must be accessible to all employees.
- High Turnover: A transient workforce is a barrier to implementation, especially in small organizations.
1. The success of any wellness program will be influenced by several common factors
Although every organization has specific needs and wants that will need to be addressed when implementing a workplace health and wellness initiative, there are several common factors that will influence success in any work environment. These are: culture; multi-level support; collaboration with industry partners; financial or economic circumstances, and the physical environment.
2. Culture, support and resources must be emphasized
Organizational culture, multi-level support and financial resources are consistently identified as highly influential factors that will influence the success of any health and wellness program/policies. Each must be emphasized together to achieve success. For example, within an organization such as a fire department, both support from all levels (management, labor, members) and resources will help to create a positive culture. If support is limited and/or resources are not available, it could be challenging to change the workplace culture and implement any health or wellness initiative.
3. Health and wellness initiatives must be comprehensive
Given the number and nature of the barriers/enablers identified in this study, a multi-faceted and well-planned implementation approach is warranted. The program should be evidence-based, engaging and relevant to all employees. Within the fire service, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and Fire Chiefs (IAFC) have created the framework for a comprehensive Wellness and Fitness Initiative (WFI) to address the unique needs of every firefighter. It is designed to address firefighters’ physical, psychological and emotional health both on and off the job, includes resources to support training and education and highlights the importance of collecting data. However, the implementation of the WFI will depend on the culture, support and resources available within each participating department.