Well-being in tomorrow’s workplace

Nonprofit provides insight into workplace health and safety
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Colorado’s Center for Health, Work & Environment is recognized as a national leader in worker health and well-being, a focus that’s becoming more acute in a post-pandemic world.

Housed at the Colorado School of Public Health on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, the organization is one of just six recognized by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health.

The center’s nonprofit program, Health Links, brings together science-led experts and mentors to equip employers to promote the health, safety and well-being of their workforces—right here in Colorado and with companies nationwide.

Funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Links differentiates itself by working with small- to mid-sized companies that may be underserved in the area of worker health, safety and well-being. Large corporations often have in-house resources for employees or interest in joining national reporting programs primarily focused on safety and workers’ rights.

“The CDC is attracted to our employer engagement model featuring surveys and personalized advising,” says Health Links Program Manager David Shapiro. “It’s huge for getting small and midsize companies to care about work health and safety.”

Health Links brings together diverse experts, from doctors to psychologists, who provide employers with deeply integrated insight emphasizing the intersection of health and safety at work. Through the national Total Worker Health program and one-on-one advising, Health Links has served more than 800 employers in just seven years of operation.

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Get Outdoors Employers Survey

One of center’s most recent projects was the Get Outdoors Employers Survey, designed to assess how organizations in Colorado enhance employee health and well-being by promoting use and stewardship of the outdoors. Results will be released this fall.

The Center for Health, Work & Environment also created an extension of the survey, the Get Outdoors Employer Toolkit, in a partnership the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The toolkit, which walks companies through integrating and promoting sustainable nature experiences and outdoor recreation through workplace initiatives, is an example of the nimbleness the center has in dealing with small and midsized companies that may need more hands-on, customized programming. Shapiro says Colorado’s outdoor-industry businesses are especially interested in finding ways to encourage employee well-being by showcasing Colorado’s healthy lifestyle and access to nature.

The center has worked with a range of outdoor companies like Steamboat’s Big Agnes and the Town of Vail, alongside diverse organizations like employee-owned New Belgium Brewing and the Douglas County School District.

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Pandemic brings fresh focus on employee health

The project is timely. “Employee health is coming up even more now, for example, with the stress of working remote,” Shapiro says.

During COVID-19, Health Links has provided free advising sessions to employers wanting to continue focusing on workplace health, with particular emphasis on how to interpret public health guidance during the pandemic. This expertise and guidance will only become more valuable as businesses determine how to navigate the future of workplace environments and employee attraction and retention.

“Right now, we’re seeing organizations interested in immediate health issues like HVAC systems and strategies for getting more outdoor air into buildings and employers holding more meetings outside,” Shapiro says.

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Studies, surveys, benchmarking and more

But one-on-one advising and grant-funded projects like the Get Outdoors Employers Survey and Toolkit are just a fraction of what the Health Links and the Center for Health, Work & Environment handle each year.

For example, the Small + Safe + Well (SSWell) project, a multi-year research study, is currently examining how small organizations support the health, safety and well-being of their workforce and how employees perceive their workplace culture. The aim is to uncover how perceptions affect health outcomes.

The center also offers a mentoring arm. The Total Worker Health Leadership Program helps business leaders create a safer and more sustainable workforce and workplace culture. Executives receive personalized, data-driven feedback and help with developing an action plan to optimize health, safety and productivity.

Whether it’s working with organizations on custom solutions, bringing them into the fold through a national study, or inviting employers to join surveys, benchmarking and certifications, Health Links has its hands full. And with culture shifts from a global pandemic yet to be realized in the workplace, Colorado’s Center for Health, Work & Environment is poised to fill a vital niche.

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