Get Your Blue Collar Workers Feeling Good About Wellness

Category: Health

Did you know that over 70% of employers offer some kind of wellness program? Gym membership discounts, weight loss programs, and biometric screenings are just a few of the popular corporate benefits offered to improve employees’ quality of life. Who wouldn’t want to take an opportunity to be healthier, more refreshed, mentally fit, and − let’s just say it − look and feel better.

Well, guess what? According to multiple sources, blue collar workers are least likely to participate in health and wellness programs. Unfortunately, they are also more prone to encounter problems with tobacco use, obesity, heart disease, and depression. In contrast, white collar professionals, managers, and business owners have the highest well-being, while manufacturing and transportation workers consistently rank amongst the lowest.

Why the disparity? No matter how lavish the wellness program, it’s meaningless unless employers’ make it relevant to the entire workforce ̶  including blue collar workers.

Avoid Lethal Lectures.

There’s little doubt that increasing workplace productivity is a big reason why a company should consider a wellness program. We could recite more than a few studies that detail how these programs decrease absenteeism and improve profitability. But focusing on these company-centric outcomes can backfire.

When it comes to getting employees engaged and excited about wellness, they need to know what’s in it for them. The most powerful message you can send is, “We care about you!” That means you, the “whole person”, not just the “3 to 11” part of your life. And that’s why we are offering programs to enhance your health and well-being.

Communication is key to the success of any company wellness program. And yet, all too often, workplace wellness communication, and the programs themselves, fail to connect with blue collar workers and their interests. Instead, the focus is on white collar employees and how “we” (the company) benefit by maintaining a healthy workforce. Human resource departments need to broaden their definition of wellness programs and how they are communicated so that they are authentic and beneficial to all workers, including blue collar groups.

Get Personal.

No one wants to be told what is “good for you.” Instead, ask your employees what types of activities capture their interest and support their personal and family wellness objectives. Offer a short online survey. Post the results, with next steps, throughout your manufacturing plant, including digital signage systems and warehouse bulletin boards. Be sure to also ask what kind of prizes or recognition they would find motivating.

The following are proven tactics that will motivate your manufacturing teams and warehouse workers, as well as build bonds with fellow colleagues throughout your company.

Everyone Wins.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 60 percent of employees do not get enough exercise. Sports offer boundless opportunities to forge a fit workplace population while fostering teamwork. From forming volleyball, bowling and softball teams, to playing ping-pong during breaks or tossing horseshoes at the company picnic, recreation offers blue collar workers the opportunity to “play” with other departments that they might not come in contact with during their daily job routines.

Cook Up a Healthy Competition.

Lecturing on healthy eating isn’t going to cut it. Put it into action and make a game of it. Encourage inter-departmental competition. Home cooked food triumphs over fast food. Welcome all would-be chefs, from the assembly line to the accounting department, and let them showcase their grill skills.

Fitness Forums.

As an event planner that has organized tons of training sessions, here’s a trade secret that never fails to engage employees: The 5-minute aerobic workout. Conducted at the end of a Monday morning stand-up meeting, this brief and always humorous exercise gets the production crew moving. Another crowd pleaser is to invite a local college coach to speak about how fitness and teamwork have made a positive impact “off the field” during a company-sponsored (and healthy!) breakfast. These talks are highly motivational and often invite discussions on reducing stress, employee morale, accident prevention, job safety and other related topics.

Take a Hike.

We mean this in a good way. Pass out pedometers and promote walks during breaks or at lunchtime. Encourage a buddy system to keep people motivated. Recruit a team for a local charity fun walk. Recognize employees by posting pictures on your company’s social media sites or acknowledging successes on your workplace digital signage.

Keep Counting.

Keep your pedometer clipped and continue counting! Standing (or slumping) at the production line for prolonged periods can cause aches and pains that persist well past the 8-hour shift. Encourage your team to periodically walk off the stress and clear their heads. They will return to their stations with muscles stretched and a more relaxed, engaged mindset. Three lively laps around the shop floor make a big difference. And while we’re at it…

Take the Stairs.

Elevators have become an easy excuse to avoid the little extra effort it takes to take the stairs. Encourage your workers to conquer the climb to the warehouse mezzanine storage space. And don’t forget to “post the evidence.” Digital signage is a great tool for showcasing pictures, prizes and positive results for any in-house initiative.

Pick Your Prizes Carefully.

For many of the activities listed, employee recognition is a natural and needed component. However, be sure to pick your prizes carefully. For those activities that require “dress for sweat,” consider purchasing low-cost, 100% cotton tees or sweatshirts with your corporate logo. Don’t forget to throw in a cap. Unlike office staff, blue collar workers are more likely to wear and appreciate apparel versus pens, notebooks and other desktop trinkets.

Painting a Picture of Wellness and Profitability.

In 2010 PPG, a global manufacturer of paints, coatings, specialty materials, and fiber glass, launched the, “Creating a Culture of Health” initiative. Within three years the company decreased its illness and injury rates by 12 percent, and had implemented the program at 75 percent of their manufacturing sites. The Fortune 200 Company aims to have full implementation by 2020.

Integral to the company’s corporate culture, PPG’s Wellness Center website provides employees health and wellness tips, along with free access to programs on nutrition, exercise, screenings, and stress prevention. The company’s “Know Your Numbers” annual program offers testing on weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels and body mass index.

A Culture of Caring.

PPG is just one example of a growing number of manufacturers that are witnessing the benefits of elevating wellness in the workplace. Although wellness programs have not been popular with blue-collar workers, effective planning and targeted communications feed employee engagement and contribute toward a culture of caring.

Get your blue collar workers feeling good about wellness. It will be a welcome change.

Barry Lee Cohen
September 6, 2017

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