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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With … Katie Towns

Assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department

Posted online

What do you think is the most important aspect of workplace wellness?
Wellness creates culture and, through culture, you can engage your employees and help them achieve their greatest potential and probably the greatest level of productivity. When the city of Springfield started its inBalance wellness program, it really evolved over the years and pushed more toward systematic changes that impacted our culture.

Some companies are spending a lot on the programs. How can they ensure a reasonable return on that investment?
We went from a 12 percent increase in spending on average per year for our health plan down to a 1.4 percent  average increase during the last five years – and that equates to millions of dollars of savings. So you spend a fraction of that a year on a wellness program, and you’re getting that sort of return.

Also, let’s face it. In our community with an unemployment rate so low, people are looking for ways to attract and retain folks. If you can create an environment that’s engaging, exciting, flexible and fun, they are going to be able to attract and retain employees much easier than the person next door without a wellness program.

What else can employers do to attract and retain employees?
Listening. At the city, we are constantly engaging employees – sort of taking feedback and involving it into our response. And then we really make an effort to respond and explore things. Listening and actively engaging your employees is one of the best things you can do. It really helps them to feel valued and that you’re taking the time to find what they want and need.

How do you start those conversations with employees?
A lot is done anonymously through surveys, and we work a lot with leadership on focus groups and work groups to engage people who want to talk. A lot of times, we get the good and the bad, and we listen to it all. I think people want to be open and honest, and that’s the only way we can get better. Gather feedback from the entire spectrum of employees.

How do you keep employees engaged in these programs?
Understand you’re not going to engage everyone. You’ll hit people with different interests and opportunities in life that will allow them to engage. So you have to sort of keep it fresh, keep evolving and keep setting new goals. Reacting to what people want is going to continue engaging them in the program.

Do you have suggestions for businesses wanting to start a wellness program?
At the Health Department, we work with Healthy Living Alliance Springfield. We worked with them to create a tool kit, and now that’s at HLAOzarks.com. It creates this knowledge book that people can just go online and access. You can go on and figure out what some of the fundamentals are (to) engage your employees.

Katie Towns can be reached at ktowns@springfieldmo.gov.

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