The average person will spend 90,000 hours working during their lifetime.1 That equates to more than 10 entire years spent on the job. For EMTs and paramedics who often work 48-hour weeks and frequently have more than one employer, these numbers may be even higher. Considering work takes up such an impressive chunk of time, when beginning to make healthy changes, it only makes sense to look to the workplace as one of the first sources of support on the journey to health.
EMS leaders agree that employee wellness is an important area of attention. The Emergency Medical Services Workforce Agenda for the Future identifies “health, safety, and wellness of the EMS workforce” as one of its critical components for developing a thriving, achieving workforce. The organization hopes “the EMS community at large will place a high value on workforce wellness” by 2020.2
Value of Wellness
From a monetary standpoint, the implementation of a formal workplace wellness program may be daunting for employers. Standard practices like wellness screenings, health incentives and payment for memberships to fitness clubs can all add up to a costly proposition.
Based on current estimates, however, the return on investment makes it well worth the money. According to the Wellness Council of America, for every dollar invested in wellness programs, employers can expect to save $2–3 in healthcare costs.3
The Individual Scale
Numerous tools are available for employers interested in initiating a workplace-based program. Insurance providers often have resources, and the Wellness Council of America (www.welcoa.org) is a great source for tools and suggestions. For the individual employee, however, it’s helpful and realistic to look at things on a smaller scale. What can you do for little or no cost that can improve your health and the health of the coworkers with whom you spend so much time?
>> Start with snacks. If your company has a vending machine, ask that healthier snacks like unsalted nuts, granola bars and dried fruit be offered in addition to the standard fare of candy and potato chips. Request that soda machines also feature water and unsweetened iced tea to make it easier to resist the call of sugary sodas.
>> Make it a meal. If you work in a service area where it’s feasible for one crew to be free long enough to cook a meal, take advantage of this. Consider meal planning, either with your partner or with all crews staffed on a given day, to allow one crew to cook a healthy meal everyone can enjoy. Try using a slow cooker, preparing a cold salad that can be stored in the fridge at the base, or bribing your company dispatcher to keep an eye on food in the oven if you are called out while cooking. If enough people are interested, you could alternate cooking duties by meal or shift, distributing labor and costs evenly so everyone can eat well while relying less on fast food.
>> Create a wellness committee. If you have a few coworkers who are enthusiastic about creating a healthier workplace, team up to identify areas of interest, plan events and begin making changes.
>> Create a wellness bulletin board. Consider posting articles on a monthly basis that focus on nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation and mental health. Alternatively, identify national health issues being targeted in the upcoming days or during the month, such as Wear Red Day in February to create awareness of heart disease in women, National Nutrition Month in March, Health Education Week in October, etc. The Department of Health and Human Services has a great calendar to help choose topics, and toolkits suggesting health-oriented activities with focused handouts about monthly topics.4,5
>> Look into your company policy on employee assistance. Many EMS organizations offer an employee assistance program that’s anonymous and free of charge to support employees dealing with mental health issues, workplace stress or home struggles.
>> Share information. If your business is large enough to have a monthly newsletter, request a health column. If you receive paper paychecks, include a sheet with weekly health tips or recipes. Hang information in the kitchen, the computer room, or the bathroom stall—anywhere people spend time and will have a minute to read it. Handouts are available for free from organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Heart Association.6,7
>> Organize health challenges. If enough people are interested, consider a large-scale “Biggest Loser” type event or a monthly step challenge. If only a few people are interested, organize one-on-one competitions. Sweeten the deal with a small buy-in the winner gets to keep, or for a more positive motivation, choose a coworker, a health goal and a prize each of you wants. Make a deal that you only get the prizes if you both meet your health goal: If you’re tempted to slack off, you’ll be forced to remember you’re not only slowing your own progress, but you’re keeping your friend from their reward too.
>> Organize a wellness library. Collect workout DVDs, health-oriented books and old exercise equipment employees no longer use. Choose an unused corner of the building where these can be stored and borrowed to encourage trying new healthy behaviors.
These are just a few suggestions to get you moving toward a healthier workplace. Brainstorm with coworkers, supervisors and even your command doctors or local emergency room staff, to see what they’ve done in the past that works, what they would like to see put into place, and what resources or skills they may have to offer. Try talking to management to see if a company-funded health program is feasible for your organization. As in any health initiative, every small healthy change is a step in the right direction, and those small steps add up to big changes.
1. Pryce-Jones J. Happiness at work: Maximizing your psychological capital for success. Wiley-Blackwell: West Sussex, UK, 2010.
2. U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (May 20, 2011.) The emergency medical services workforce agenda for the future. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.ems.gov/pdf/2011/EMS_Workforce_Agenda_052011.pdf.
3. Goetzel R. (Jan. 19, 2012.) Return on investment for workplace wellness. Wellness Council of America. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.welcoa.org/freeresources/pdf/rongoetzel011912.pdf.
4. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Sept. 24, 2013.) 2013 National health observances. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.healthfinder.gov/NHO/nhoPDF/2013nho.pdf.
5. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Sept. 24, 2013.) Monthly toolkits. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.healthfinder.gov/nho/Default.aspx.
6. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (n.d.) Nutrition tip sheets. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.eatright.org/nutritiontipsheets/.
7. American Heart Association. (Oct 23,2012.) Nutrition education handouts and resources. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Nutrition-Education-Handouts-and-Resources_UCM_321883_Article.jsp.