Can employee wellness programs work in a high-stress hospital environment?

Workplace wellness programs have become increasingly common across companies spanning a variety of industries. With access to health screenings, nap rooms and fitness tracking programs, employees and companies benefit from healthier workers and improved productivity. Ironically, employee wellness programs are less popular in healthcare, despite the industry's implicit dedication to improving people's health.

The fast-paced, high-stress environment of a hospital may make wellness programs more difficult to implement, yet these characteristics also reinforce the need to focus on employees' health. For instance, studies have shown nurses who work through the night are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, according to The Huffington Post. Healthcare workers also show high rates of obesity.

Although implementing employee wellness programs in hospitals may be uniquely challenging, some institutions have already begun to see success in such efforts.

For instance, the Cleveland Clinic's employee wellness initiative includes access to "Code Lavender," a program designed to help nurses and physicians facing severe stress and burnout. The hospital system provides struggling workers with access to a team of holistic care nurses that provide Reiki healing — a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation — as well as massage, healthy snacks and water, according to The Huffington Post.

As part of a push to incorporate more physical activity into employees' days, in 2015, Huntsville (Ala.) Hospital System partnered with StepJockey, a British stair climbing tracking app, to encourage employees to take the stairs inside the hospital instead of the elevator, according to the report.

The hospital hung signs near the elevators and stairwells with information on how many calories they could burn from climbing or descending. To track their progress, employees can scan their phones at the signs. When the Huntsville Hospital System first kicked off the program, it challenged employees to climb enough steps to burn the same number of calories as they would to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. The hospital employees met the goal in three weeks.

Another benefit of more employees taking the stairs than the elevators is a reduction in the hospitals' overall environmental impact. A recent analysis by StepJockey found hospitals in England are poised to save more than $145 million per year in energy costs by taking the stairs instead of elevators, according to the report. If just 15 percent of nurses at hospitals under the National Health Service opted for the stairs, those English hospitals would save more than 55,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over five years.

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