Employers Create Culture of Health in Memphis

August 1, 2014

Five years ago when the Memphis Business Group on Health (MBGH) first began contemplating ways to encourage comprehensive workplace wellness programs, the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) who participate in the member organization asked a vital question: how will we know if we’re moving along the path to create a Culture of Health? Cristie Travis, CEO of MBGH, and MBGH staff’s response is the foundation for their CEO Culture of Health Initiative. 

The CEO Culture of Health Initiative invites CEOs to sign a commitment stating they are dedicated to supporting the health and wellness of their employees. In signing the commitment they recognize the health of their employees is tied to the economic vitality of their business and community. The initiative, however, is much more than a signed pledge. Participating employers must pick from four national  evidence-based programs and follow the framework laid out in their selected program. Participating businesses must adopt and implement at least one healthy eating or physical activity policy. Travis believes policy adoption (as opposed to implementing programs) is crucial to creating a sustained Culture of Health because once a policy is enacted, it often lasts even after champions come and go.

MBGH’s recruitment began in January 2013; 38 CEOs representing about 50,000 employees have signed on to the initiative. Since small businesses have different implementation challenges due to their size and capacity, MBGH has redesigned its technical assistance to also meet the needs of organizations with fewer employees.

For participating organizations, MBGH provides technical assistance that ranges from providing gap analyses, assistance in planning and implementation, as well as offering a quarterly newsletter providing tools and resources and highlighting successes. According to Travis, technical assistance helps build capacity within an organization. MBGH’s efforts are paying off—to date, roughly 30 of the 38 participating businesses have met the standards of at least one evidence-based program and some are even exploring additional programs.

Travis says that in Shelby County, almost 50 percent of the population is in the labor force, and workplace wellness initiatives are critically important. Employers also receive a direct return on their investment. For every dollar spent on wellness programs, employers see savings in health care costs and increased productivity. There are also recruitment and retention cost savings as well. Travis believes this initiative offers employers the chance “to improve the health of the entire community.”  

Travis acknowledges that Memphis, often at the top of many wrong lists, has a reputation for poor health. One of the initiative’s goals is to have Memphis employers – leaders in the community – engaged in educating others about the importance of creating a healthier community. 

MBGH is still determining how best to measure success. In the short term, MBGH will continue to recruit employers in making the commitment to build a Culture of Health in Memphis.