During potato harvest season in northern Maine, school-aged children are not spending their days in the classroom at desks or behind screens.
They’re with their families in the fields, helping out during a narrow window that is a pivotal economic opportunity for their communities. It’s their livelihood, and so the region’s school systems adapt and provide what looks and feels like a holiday break—a week or so off so families can focus on what matters most.
It’s a small act but makes a tremendous difference in many ways. Rather than managing excessive absences and penalizing students whose families need their help, the schools are saying, “You are important.” And they adjust the calendar.
I learned of this when I was visiting the area and overheard a mother-daughter conversation when the young girl was asked, “Why are you not in school?” It struck me—and it sparked other examples of how exercising flexibility within structured systems and processes can yield so many benefits.
A similar leeway occurs in parts of Alaska during the annual salmon run. It’s a limited-time opportunity to basically “make it or break it” economically. It’s their harvest time. So, school starts after the run is over. Otherwise, classrooms would likely be sparse.
In communities like Ocean City, MD where travel and tourism fuel business success, schools may start after the Labor Day holiday so working-age students can continue helping their employers until the busy season ends.
As employers, are we stuck in a system that could be modified to serve our people better?
How can we offer flexibility or adjust how we’re doing things to encourage improved wellness and ownership over personal health? What is the data saying?
We do have flexibility. There are opportunities to make adjustments that can drive better outcomes for health, morale, and productivity. When we look at the big picture of employee wellbeing in our workplaces, small tweaks in a process, programming, procedure, or messaging can make the difference. When we think too narrowly or get stuck in the weeds, it’s essential to step back and ask, “Is there something we could change to make a greater impact on people’s lives and our organization as a whole?”
The answer is always yes.
As you consider ways to align your benefits offering to the needs of your employee population, review the data and take the time to ask your people what matters. Here are some key areas where even minor adjustments can make a marked impact.
● Preventive Healthcare: Are employees developing relationships with a trusted primary care provider, making and keeping annual physical appointments that are important for maintaining overall health and wellbeing? If the data says no, what’s the reason? Is your PTO policy too rigid? Might a worker hesitate to make an appointment because they do not want to lose an entire vacation day or anticipate a required follow-up visit they are not in a financial position to handle? Does there need to be more education to help employees understand the importance of these visits?
● Wellness Programs: Is participation in wellness programs or initiatives lacking? What is preventing employees from getting involved? Are the programs aligning with their goals—whether moving more, losing weight, finding a moment to take a breather, or getting financially fit? Are programs offered when employees are available or integrated into their daily work processes?
● Messaging: Consider your employee population and how this might vary across sites. Are your communications “speaking” to different audiences based on demographics, health profiles, geography, and other social-economic factors? And, are you sending out these messages when people have the time to read, understand and act on them?
Like the potato harvest, salmon run, and tourist-centered communities, we can take a similar approach to structure and deliver healthcare benefits and wellness offerings by considering what matters most to employees.
We’ll leave you with this: What may seem like small potatoes to you could mean the world to employees! So, review the data, ask employees what matters most to them, and seek out ways to align your health benefits and wellness programming so they can be more effective.
About Health Action Council
Health Action Council is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare in the community.