Local employers hear healthy workplace message

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

NATCHEZ — Health and happiness of employees can boost a business’s bottom line.

That was the message local employers received at the Natchez Community Hospital-sponsored “Wellness in the Workplace” luncheon Tuesday at the Natchez Convention Center.

The event speaker, nurse practitioner Angie Waller, offered tips on creating a healthy work environment while guests enjoyed roast beef, green beans and sweet tea.

Waller said prevention is the key to workplace wellness.

Factors such as obesity, sleep apnea, smoking, alcohol and drug use, chronic disease, stress and depression reduce productivity and cost companies thousands on health care.

To address obesity, Waller said businesses should encourage employees to be active rather than just lose weight. Pursuing a more active lifestyle is more effective than watching the scale, she said.

“A sedentary lifestyle is not natural,” Waller said.

She also said the rush of endorphins and serotonin caused by exercise can influence happiness.

Waller said stressed or depressed employees can decrease productivity at work. She said it is important for supervisors to recognize when an employee is overly stressed or depressed, pull the employee aside and address the issue rather than ignore it.

Waller said the same approach applies to employees with drinking or drug problems.

Chronic diseases also garner expensive health care bills, Waller said. She said 45 percent of Americans have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma. The best way to fight this type of risk is to encourage employees to schedule regular check-up appointments with a doctor. She also reminded women and men to be diligent with regular mammograms and prostate exams, respectively.

Waller said sleep apnea can carry a huge impact in the workplace. Sleep apnea affects 20 percent of Americans, but only 90 percent of cases are diagnosed, Waller said. Symptoms include snoring and all-day fatigue. She said a person with sleep apnea becomes exhausted during the day because the brain undergoes a subconscious struggle to wake up during sleep. She said spending one or two nights in a sleep clinic could get the disease diagnosed and treatment prescribed.

Waller said companies could combat health issues a variety of ways. Employers can assemble a wellness committee, mail employees newsletters on healthy living and encourage a healthy lifestyle by setting an example. She said incentives, such as time off or extra payment, are the best way to encourage wellness.

Employers and employees should not expect vast changes overnight, however.

“You can start out (wellness programs) small,” she said.

For example, Waller said placing healthier items in the vending machines is a good way employers can start encouraging wellness at work.

NCH CEO Donny Rentfro said Waller’s experience working with children and adults for over thirty years made her an excellent source to speak on wellness.

The NCH Wellness Works Division provides its members from approximately 150 businesses with free services to streamline healthcare and cut company costs. Members have access to a 1-800 number that coordinates doctor appointments and provides free testing services. Companies interested in becoming members can reach Corporate Health Consultant Jessie Smith at 601-446-3602.