Hello research, meet practice

Have you ever thought that science and practice don’t talk enough? As we develop and disseminate our evidence-based Total Worker Health interventions at the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, it’s important to understand the steps organizations are currently taking toward healthier workforces.

OHWC Center Manager, Anjali Rameshbabu attended the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) 2016 Forum last month. Geared toward sharing best practices in workplace health and well-being, HERO provides a common ground for researchers and practitioners to exchange knowledge, trade experiences, and strategize approaches for positive workforce outcomes. With our goal of dissemination at the OHWC, this event provided an opportunity to share our own resources with interested professionals.

This year’s theme at HERO was “Leading in Well-Being: Workplaces Influencing the Health of Employees, Families and Communities”. Represented by academia and industry, some captivating keynotes were from Howard Koh (former United States Assistant Secretary for Health), Vic Strecher (University of Michigan), Jack Groppel (Johnson & Johnson), Ron Goetzel (Johns Hopkins), and a vibrant group called Next Jump. Often through stories of success and challenge, sessions addressed key issues such as culture of well-being, employee engagement, leadership support, and program effectiveness. Through it all emerged an underlying push to promote engagement and purpose as facilitators of employee well-being. HERO honored Boise School and Sandia Labs for their exemplary workplace well-being efforts with C. Everett Koop National Health Awards .

Ron Goetzel on cost-effectiveness of well-being programs
Vic Strecher discussing employee engagement and purpose
Howard Koh describing a new Harvard initiative to improve workplace health
Jack Groppel sharing results from their wellness intervention at Johnson & Johnson

In all, with its friendly space for researchers and practitioners, highlight of tools like the HERO Scorecard and practical strategies for workplace well-being, and extensive networking opportunity, the HERO conference is a highly engaging forum. Still, one issue remained conspicuously absent–occupational safety. It’s no surprise that traditionally, employee safety and wellness have remained independent efforts. From the evidence behind Total Worker Health, we now know that meaningfully improving the health status of work populations is best done by an organization-led integrated approach that addresses both, the safety and well-being of the worker. Picture the safety risks of a construction worker who hasn’t had enough sleep. Imagine the health outcomes of a nurse who regularly works double shifts. Safety and well-being go hand in hand.

For sure, forums like HERO are crucial to understanding the wellness trends in industry just as occupational safety conferences shine the light on workplace exposures and risks. As supporters of Total Worker Health, it is a reminder that we need to engage in some serious socializing—between safety and wellness departments, between an organization’s senior leaders, managers, and employees, and between research and practice. Bottom line: make social, not silo.