Sarah Monley is a Program Manager at StayWell, a health engagement company employing more than 800 professionals serving clients across the healthcare spectrum. She has worked in corporate wellness for more than five years.
After graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications I served as a Community Health Education volunteer in Armenia with the U.S. Peace Corps. Health education effectiveness in Armenia was dependent on the development of professional relationships. Upon return, I acknowledged that America is the same. Population health management has been the focus of my career, so I am studying to obtain my Master’s of public health at UC Berkeley. Recognizing that individual behavior change impacts the norms established in communities, I have completed the Wellcoachesâ health and wellness coach training program as well.
Health behavior change is not solely based on knowledge of what to do, seeing and trying how to do it is required for sustainable success. I have invested my career in the establishment and growth of wellness networks in client workplaces based on the knowledge that relationships, particularly those employees’ hold with their peers, impact their ability to address personal health behaviors. From stress and weight management to exercise and nutrition, employees are inspired to improve when they are supported by compassionate colleagues, invested supervisors and motivated senior leaders. I began this work in 2009 with a client representing more than 500 dispersed grocery store locations in Western Washington. In less than two years I was able to establish a network of more than 100 wellness volunteers who not only served as resources to their peers, but also fostered support for onsite programming and provided the client with invaluable feedback on the effectiveness of the wellness offerings. Since 2012, I have worked with a Fortune 22 client with more than 20,000 employees in diverse workplaces throughout the country. In 2013, the pilot of 10 wellness network locations experienced health risk reduction and program participation rates higher than the corporate average so that this year senior leaders expanded the network to more than 80 locations touching more than 12,000 employees. The effectiveness of the wellness network has been based on our ability to engage senior leaders in nominating employees with creative problem solving skills and compassion for their colleagues. Once trained, these individuals take the monthly toolkits I develop based on priority health topics and tailor their use to various workplace arrangements such as manufacturing or customer service. Wellness networks influence culture change because cultures are built on the norms of those who make them. By empowering individuals at the location-level we are able to effectively bring to life the offerings available to serve the needs of individuals and their families. Wellness network members become a part of a structure that empowers them with strategic guidance in addition to monthly resources. Each site receives a data scorecard of their specific locations’ health risks so that they’re able to prioritize topic areas, events and activities to implement throughout the year.
I’ve established my career on the expectation that this industry, and individual practitioners in daily work, must emphasize strengths and opportunities and build on what is working rather then focus on fixing what isn’t. We can do this at a personal level in order to build self-efficacy among employees making individual behavior changes, or we can do this corporately by providing workplace locations with resources to address cultural changes. Regardless of the employers’ preferred approach, I focus on the fact that without a purpose, there is rarely lasting change. This is why I work to link projects, programs, events, and activities to the values of the employees at the location level.
I demonstrate personal health by experimenting in new group fitness classes, competing with friends and family for high weekly step totals, treating my department to fresh fruit Fridays, inviting colleagues to join me on the outdoor walking path, and striving to remain calm and patient in times of high stress. These public actions add value to my life and demonstrate credibility in the value of prioritizing health in daily decisions. Seeking information from industry experts and learning new concepts from professional associations has developed my leadership experience. I’ve learned a great deal from taking creative risks in work as well. My approach toward leadership is twofold: to provide the resources my staff and wellness network members need to perform their best and to position each new challenge as a learning experiment. In order to lead in health promotion, my greatest advice is to concentrate on empowering and learning from others.
My approach to innovation is to position health promotion in alignment with various existing workplace initiatives. Whether encouraging a Six Sigma Black Belt wellness network member to consider how wellness programming can be more visual in his location, or empowering an employee health and safety specialist to implement a middle-management health campaign based on a recognized safety strategy, I try to build on the successes people can replicate. Not only is this more effective and relevant, but it supports individual behavior change and empowers existing groups within a workplace. This method is efficient because it requires a new way of looking at current investments, rather than expending resources on new development. It addresses behavior change through recognizable efforts that build employee efficacy and reinforces the workplace culture by positioning existing group functions and initiatives from the well-being perspective.
My vision for health promotion as an industry is that the work we do would be sought out by people for its relevance, credibility and quality reputation. The greatest opportunity in health promotion is culture change. This would mean a shift from unhealthy norms to healthy preferences where people live and work. For workplace wellness practitioners like myself, the greatest threat to the industry today is failure to align well-being with organizational development and community institutions. In the coming years, I plan to combine health coaching methodology, service learning, and volunteerism to develop communications and programming that empower populations within and beyond the workplaces I serve. I will strive to use public health practices to develop offerings that serve employees in the community from an environmental level. Together, this top-down/bottom-up approach has the potential to influence change.