Today I talk with Stephanie Downs, WellBeing Coordinator at Iowa State University. Stephanie has been a health promotion practitioner for 25 years so has seen the evolution of worksite wellness.

Stephanie has always favored a non-traditional path to wellness and really likes to see the whole person. She tells us about her 5 Guiding Principles, challenges at a University and what she’s most excited about today. After this interview, I can see why Stephanie was recognized as one of WELCOA’s Top 50 Health Promotion Professionals for 2016. Thanks to Rosie Ward for connecting me to Stephanie!

The Interview

Stephanie tells us why it’s important for her to go down the non-traditional path. People are ore complex than their biometrics and physical health. She wants to value and serve people in a way that helps them move them forward.

Did she always believe this way? She’s always valued people and honored the whole person and she realized she wasn’t reaching people in the way she wanted to reach them.

Stephanie tells us challenges she’s faced.

Wellness always seems to have to be justified although we “get” that healthier happier people are more productive. We are always asked to quantify the value.

She tells us her approach to wellness at Iowa State. Stephanie wanted to build on a culture that was already good. She developed the 5 Guiding Principles, which are a compilation of the last 25 years and the guardrails she wants to have moving forward. They are linked below but here’s a summary:

  1. Creating the conditions where employees thrive
  2. Building the environment that make healthy choices easier (built around Blue Zones)
  3. Supporting people where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
  4. All elements of well-being (not just jogging and broccoli)
  5. Develop human capacity for growth

She’s been down the path of Health Assessments and biometrics. People feel like they know what’s coming back and like they got their hand slapped. Biometrics add some value but it’s the idea of knowing their numbers. They are shifting from biometrics at the worksite to getting them to their MD’s and utilizing their benefits.

Incentives – no, they don’t use them but she’s used them in the past. Sometimes they’ll get people in the door but won’t keep them. They can also have negative side effects.

She walks us through challenges within a University setting with 6,500 employees. I ask her what’s helped her influence. Relationships. Getting out and talking to people and not being concerned about titles or positions (people are people). Being honest about what she can or can’t do.

Over her career, when did she realize things needed to change with wellness? It’s been gradual. When she started, it was fitness and big prizes. Then moved into healthcare costs, assessing risk and disease and tied to benefits. Then she realized something is missing. Got into intrinsic coaching and changed her approach at the City of Ames…saw some good results.

What’s she most excited about today? She established a group at the University from various departments talking about a weight neutral philosophy. It’s an opportunity to change the messaging and support people in a whole new way.

Stephanie leaves us with her advice to other wellness professionals: Be persistent because it will take time. It’s an uphill battle because you’re going against common thinking. Be grounded in your own values. Break through silos within your organization.

Full Bio:

Stephanie is the ISU WellBeing Coordinator at Iowa State University where she is responsible for creating and leading the employee wellbeing strategies for over 6,500 employees. Stephanie has served in the worksite wellness/health promotion field for over 25 years, including employment with the City of Ames, Pioneer HiBred Int’l, and the WDM Community Schools.

She is a member of Iowa’s Healthiest State Conference planning team, a Certified Intrinsic Coach®, and a Certified Real Colors® facilitator. Stephanie is also a frequent presenter on worksite wellness, energy management, and sustainable cultures. Recently, she was recognized as one of WELCOA’s Top 50 Health Promotion Professionals for 2016.

Links Mentioned:

Tony Swartz and the Energy Project

Dan Pink – Drive

Recommended books: The Way We’re Working isn’t Working by Tony Swartz and Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman.

Iowa State University’s Wellbeing Plan