I had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn at a local Health Promotion Professionals group and was really interested in how she applies her experience to the world of worksite wellness.
Carolyn has a diverse background, from research to health promotion manager, and now part of the leadership team at the Springboard Commons. In her role at Springboard Commons, she positions organizations to support their employees in cultivating health and energy. They have a multidimensional platform called Springboard, that incorporates not just the physical dimension of wellness but also emotional and life direction (purpose and meaning).
Enjoy this interview with Carolyn!
With your education in Anthropology, how did you find your way into the field of Worksite Health & Wellness?
My first position out of graduate school was managing a large breast cancer registry for 18 months at UNC Chapel Hill. I had a strong interest in health at a system level, so I then decided to accept another offer within the university that was focused on worksite and community based health promotion programs.
Tell me a bit about the research you conducted at University of North Carolina. What did you take away from the research and use in practice?
I worked on numerous projects at UNC Chapel Hill that tested an array of worksite programs in different environments, including physical activity, weight loss, diet, arthritis, and cancer prevention. During that time, we interviewed over 100 senior management level employees, including CEOs and Presidents.
One of the most meaningful results from those interviews was that there seems to be a large disconnect in the perception about health programs between senior management and their employees.
All the companies that did have alignment, though, had a strategic initiative and plan in place. They saw better outcomes, higher levels of employee engagement in programs, and an overall shared vision of health in their organizations.
You went from working in research to actually implementing worksite wellness at IBM. How different are those two worlds?
In research, I saw the importance for organizations to have a reasonable and actionable multi-year implementation strategy. When I moved over into the practice world, the corporate environment became a good laboratory for real-time feedback and the ability to make adjustments as needed. In addition, it became evident that having a strategy is a requirement for achieving any level of successful, positive outcomes.
Sometimes, there is a disconnect between research and how it’s applied (or what actually happens in the workplace). How can we better apply research to worksite wellness?
Creativity. Innovation. Thinking differently. The scientific recommendations need to be concise, actionable, and easily implemented into a multi-year strategy.
A few examples of translating the science into practice are: using benefits enrollment as a method to raise awareness about programs and garner employee engagement; having a strategic, inspiring marketing strategy (vs. prescriptive one); and considering work group specific interventions when thinking about increasing health at a population level.
Was it difficult to deliver worksite wellness initiatives to a large, national population?
One thing that became apparent when working with large, dispersed populations is the need for a systematic implementation method. Having a strategy led to more powerful outcomes, and in turn, material for scientific publications. But each environment is unique, and no matter whether you work in a small, medium, or large business, it is about identifying the most effective and efficient methods.
You are now working as Director at the Springboard Commons, helping to develop and launch Springboard to employers and employees. Tell me about Springboard and what it can do for employee health and wellness.
I have been in multiple discussions with seasoned workplace health professionals who are asking “What’s next?” in health promotion, and in particular, “How do we transform wellness programs into those that are practical, powerful, and provide a more integrated vision of health?”
Their employees want to be healthy, creative, energetic, purposeful, and resilient to achieve personal and business success. Springboard is a web program that offers the most efficient, effective practices for building health and energy in today’s environment. Its approach encompasses both physical and psychological domains, and focuses on powerful practices that build human capacity, such as attention restoration, quality movement, nutrient-rich eating, and more.
What’s the most useful insight you’ve had from Springboard for you personally?
Simple, everyday practices can have both immediate and long-term effects on my health and energy, as long as I do them regularly and consistently. I have become much more aware of the tools I can use to maintain high energy levels – anything from a two-minute mindfulness exercise to eating nutrient-rich snacks.
What’s wrong with the wellness industry today? What’s right with it?
Over the years, many individuals have benefited from their wellness programs at work. It’s time, though, to advance our approach in order to equip individuals to function at their highest capacity.
Companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and become leaders recognized for having high health and energy workforces. My personal mission, at this stage in my career, is to turn that vision into reality.
What do you see as the future of worksite wellness?
Positioning employees to invest in their health so that they will commit time, energy, and monetary resources to reach their objectives. With information technology, there is an opportunity to do just that by taking advantage of access to leading-edge science, new learning methods, and an array of other tools and features.
Parting thoughts/words of wisdom for the lone wellness person or HR rep designing wellness programs for their employees?
Consider thinking differently about health promotion and implementing leading-edge approaches. In my experience, I saw a lot of companies recreate the wheel. Instead, we need to experiment with new techniques, engage experts to partner with, and share knowledge and experience freely. Use all of these insights to move your program in a direction that meets your vision of employee health in your company.
Note: You can find out more at http://SpringboardCommons.com.