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Healthy Workplaces Will Foster Happy Workers

If there ever was a time to focus on workplace wellness, it’s now. The pressures of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the normal stresses and strains at work, have made promoting a healthy work environment an even greater priority.

Organizations including Samaritan Health Services — seven‑time winner of Oregon’s Healthiest Employer award for organizations with more than 5,000 employees — are keeping well‑being front of mind and encouraging employees and community members to practice wellness strategies in their daily lives.

Samaritan’s own successful experience with worksite wellness also informs its work with other businesses that offer Samaritan Health Plans’ health insurance to their employees.

“Our wellness program is always evolving,” said Alyssa Wink, director of Wellness and Fitness for Samaritan.

In times of change and uncertainty, Samaritan’s COVID‑19 employee wellness response has magnified these efforts. For essential workers, including those in health care, the prolonged stress and distress can sometimes feel like a marathon.

“We are committed to supporting employees and their families during the unprecedented challenges facing us in response to the pandemic,” said William Barish, MD, chief wellness officer for Samaritan.

The stress some health care workers are experiencing is unlike anything Dr. Barish has seen in the 40 years he has practiced medicine.

Samaritan’s comprehensive approach to employee wellness includes personal support resources developed by its Well‑Being Council. These resources have not only continued during the pandemic, but they have also expanded with virtual listening circles and fitness classes, and “care for the caregiver” sessions moving online for greater accessibility.

Another popular offering is the Headspace app. Employees receive a free subscription to the mindfulness program that teaches new strategies for stress, anxiety, sleep focus and fitness.

Additionally, mindfulness training that was initially offered only to clinicians has expanded to all employees. Kari Hart, a licensed clinical social worker and mindfulness‑based stress reduction instructor, teaches people the skills to be present, calm and effective under stress.

In health care, where nearly 80% of workers are female, helping women to cope with stress and burnout has become a focus. As of February, nearly 3 million U.S. women had dropped out of the labor force in the past year.

“The additional demands are disproportionately affecting women,” said Hart. “Women are four times more likely to leave the workforce than men.”

Staying attuned to the aspects that contribute to health and well‑being makes practical sense, as well. Businesses pay a high cost for ignoring workplace wellness with absenteeism, poor performance and lost productivity.

In a health care setting, improved workforce wellness is equated with reduced burnout.

“There is very good data to show that reducing burnout improves the patient experience and reduces medical errors,” Dr. Barish said. “That’s the payback for the community.”

If you’re interested in learning meditation, Samaritan’s Well-Being Council recommends the Headspace app. A free version is available on the App Store and Google Play.

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