How IU is moving toward a culture of health using workplace wellness surveys

The results are in from Indiana University's Workplace Health and Wellness Survey, and they are promising.

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More than 5,000 full-time employees completed Indiana University's Workplace Health and Wellness Survey this spring. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

In spring 2019, the survey was sent universitywide to all full-time IU employees -- more than 19,000 in total. Over 5,000 of IU's full-time employees, nearly 27 percent, completed it. It was the third survey of its kind distributed since 2013, and the new report prepared by the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI makes meaningful comparisons from the first baseline survey to now.

The survey was designed with input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's workplace health team. The purpose was to identify strengths and challenges in organizational and employee wellness and guide future programs and policies to build a healthier IU. Questions on the survey spanned six categories: organizational support, resources and programs, lifestyle, preventive health care, stress, and health and illness.

Here's a look at the results that stood out the most:

A drop in stress

Most notable were the gains made in the area of stress reduction for employees. All four areas that the survey measured improved: effects of stress on overall health, prevalence of stress at work, stress at work affecting home life, and stress at home affecting work life.

Stress and mental well-being have been a major focus of Healthy IU ever since the 2013 survey, which showed high rates of stress among employees. Over the past six years, programs have been implemented to promote stress reduction, such as Mindful Way to Stress Reduction, Personal Resiliency Training, Gratitude Workshops, Mid-Day Mindfulness and even an online challenge called Common Good.

The hiring of a full-time work-life consultant has provided additional services and support. Stress-reducing behaviors such as getting restful sleep, eating a balanced diet and getting regular physical activity were also promoted through Healthy IU online challenges, programs, resources and campus signage.

However, when it comes to stress, there is still work to be done. Fourteen percent of employees reported that stress had affected their overall health "a lot." And one in five employees reported feeling tense, restless, nervous or anxious, or unable to sleep at night because of stress most of the time during the 30 days before the survey. This will continue to be an area of focus for Healthy IU and its partners.

IU supports healthy living

Another exciting area of growth is the culture of health at IU and employee engagement with Healthy IU. Overall, employees consider IU more supportive of their health since 2013. Employee-perceived support for workplace health and safety, physical activity, access to healthy foods, and stress management have all significantly increased. Rates held steady in ratings of co-worker/supervisor support for well-being as well as IU's provision of the opportunity to live tobacco-free.

Interestingly, Healthy IU programs, resources and organizational supports are having an effect beyond IU. Of the 73 percent of respondents who had participated in a Healthy IU program in the past two years -- such as a health screening with incentive, online challenge or in-person/online workshop -- 65 percent had shared the information or skills learned from programs with family, friends or co-workers. This "ripple effect" demonstrates progress toward a culture of health within the workplace and beyond.

Finding time to move

One major area of concern from the 2019 survey is linked to the fact that 82 percent of IU employees have sedentary jobs. Of those employees who describe their job as mostly sitting, less than half, or 43 percent, say they are able to get up and move around or stand and stretch eight or more times during a typical eight-hour workday. This is an 18 percent relative decrease from 2013.

While 57 percent of employees believe IU has provided them with opportunities to be physically active -- such as indoor/outdoor walking trails, workstation movements and recreation center access -- employees may need more support to use them. Research finds that short bouts of physical activity throughout the day boost overall health, lower stress and improve cognitive function. Listening to employees' needs is necessary to solve the problem of decreased physical activity throughout the workday.

Next steps

The 2019 survey results will form the basis of future Healthy IU planning and programs. This fall, Healthy IU team members will be meeting with campus chancellors and wellness coalitions to share the results and gather feedback.

Also this fall, Healthy IU Steering Committee members will once again work with the CDC Worksite Health ScoreCard, a tool that assesses evidence-based health promotion interventions, to create a five-year action plan for Healthy IU. The first five-year plan, which sunsets in 2020, was also based on the CDC Worksite Health ScoreCard. The new plan is expected to be in place by summer 2020.

These latest survey results show that IU has made strong and steady progress toward a culture of health since 2013. Now it's up to all of us to continue that journey.

Julie Newsom is the communications specialist for Healthy IU.