Worksite wellness programs can be effective in improving health and decreasing costs related to chronic disease, mostly by working to support healthy behaviors among their employees and by creating a healthy work environment. Findings from a meta-analysis of 56 studies of worksite health promotion programs showed an average 27% reduction in sick leave absenteeism, 26% reduction in healthcare costs, 32% decrease in workers’ compensation and disability claims,
and a $5.81-to-$1 return on investment ratio associated with the wellness programs.1
San Diego County is home to a large tourism industry, with nearly 500 hotel and motel properties and a total of more than 56,000 rooms available to visitors. Approximately 160,000 San Diegans are employed in the hospitality sector, working in lodging, food service, attractions, and transportation.
Wyndham San Diego Bayside (Wyndham) is a hotel nestled along the harbor in the downtown San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, and employs over 220 residents. In 2013, Wyndham was recruited as a worksite for the Worksite Wellness Program, implemented by the UC San Diego-Center for Community Health, to focus on establishing workplace environments that support healthy eating and active living with particular focus on their low-wage employees.
Wyndham prioritizes the well-being of their associates. General Manager Joe Eustice explains, "I’m encouraged every day by working with such an inspiring group of individuals. The associates come ready to do their daily jobs with the highest regard for themselves, in the process motivating one another to make huge contributions to each other, their communities, and their families."
The first step in launching the wellness program was establishing a wellness committee as a foundation for decision-making and moving initiatives forward. Wyndham decided to integrate the wellness committee into its existing safety committee, which already included leadership such as Wyndham’s executive chef, human resources staff, executive assistant, and marketing/public relations staff, among others. The committee collectively developed an overall mission statement to reduce employees’ risk for chronic diseases caused by poor diet or lack of exercise, and to create a greater sense of camaraderie for their employees. Calling the program “Wyndham Wellness,” the committee met monthly to strategically plan their activities and initiatives around three key areas: 1) wellness initiatives, 2) community initiatives, and 3) green initiatives.
Wyndham Wellness was developed to offer something for every employee, and launched its program with health education and a variety of activities aiming to support employees in eating healthy and moving more.
Once employees were educated and engaging in these worksite activities, Wyndham strongly felt it was time to change their internal policies and practices to make sustainable changes within their organization. With support from the Worksite Wellness Program, the committee adopted a Healthy Meeting Policy for work-sponsored meetings, events, and celebrations.
Wyndham is also currently in the process of adopting a comprehensive lactation accommodation policy with support through Healthy Works. The lactation accommodation policy will provide support and resources to new mothers returning to work who want to continue breastfeeding. This includes access to private locations (that are not restrooms) for the purpose of milk expression. In addition to accommodating employees, Wyndham will have measures in place to accommodate their guests by making future plans to build a designated guest-specific lactation room. This lactation policy will be executed through the Wyndham corporate office headquarters located in New Jersey. Once the policy is adopted, it will influence more than 100 hotels throughout the nation and thousands of employees and hotel guests annually.
Ariannabell Reyes, Assistant Director of Human Resources for Wyndham San Diego Bayside, is one of the project’s wellness leaders. She has been instrumental in the success and sustainability of the Wyndham Wellnessprogram. “Our healthy worksite wellness practices transcend from the work environment to the homes of many of our associates,” Ms. Reyes said of the program. “Fostering healthy practices, investing in wellness education, and actively participating in community initiatives have revolutionized our way of doing business.”
Limited wellness budgets and with that, staff to lead the program, can be a barrier to worksite wellness programs. To overcome these challenges, the NEOP Worksite Wellness Program partnered with local community organizations and businesses to provide Wyndham with no-cost reinforcements for employee participation in the various programs. These were effective in motivating employees to participate in the wellness activities and challenges, and in spurring friendly competition.
Although there is not yet a dedicated staff member to lead employee wellness efforts, Wyndham has established a robust wellness committee with seven dedicated staff members representing different departments within the company. The committee built sufficient capacity over the past several years to maintain Wyndham’s progress.
Overall, the culture of health and wellness at Wyndham has dramatically shifted, as evidenced by a high level of participation in the wellness program as well as the adoption of sustainable policies. The mission of Wyndham Wellness goes beyond building better health but also focuses on social connection, with employee engagement being a priority at every level of the organization.
“I am very proud to work for a company that places emphasis on being healthy, along with providing a great avenue for everyone to Be Well!” said Selina Shepherd, Executive Assistant for Wyndham San Diego Bayside. “All of the planned activities are great, however my favorite is the lunch & learns.”
Based on self-reported data from the annual post-implementation surveys by Allison Owen, Human Resource Director for Wyndham San Diego Bayside, the Wyndham Wellness Program has markedly improved employee morale and productivity. There were higher levels of reported engagement and expressed interest in new activities to maintain healthy and active lifestyles.
As a result of these healthy changes to the workplace environment, Wyndham San Diego Bayside became the first designated Live Well San Diego hotel on May 22, 2015. Wyndham integrated this vision into its overall wellness program mission, with the new tagline of “Be Well, Live Well, Serve Well.” A flag now waves outside the hotel displaying this message. The Live Well San Diego designation and Wyndham San Diego Bayside’s model efforts are now inspiring other businesses in San Diego’s hospitality industry to follow suit and create a healthier environment for their employees.
By Kelley Axelson, UC San Diego-Center for Community Health
This material was produced by the California Department of Public Health’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch with funding from USDA SNAP-Ed, known in California as CalFresh. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. CalFresh provides assistance to low-income households and can help buy nutritious food for better health. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.CaChampionsForChange.net.