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Well done: broad Department effort promotes healthy living.

The State Department last month began a program it sees as the next wave in promoting employee wellness, one that moves the Department from simply offering employees information to helping them modify their behavior.

The Personal Empowerment Plan from the Office of Medical Services is the latest in a series of recent pro-wellness actions by the Department. Others have included promoting bicycling by installing showers in the Main State parking garage and having more nutritious meals available in the Main State cafeteria and a nutritionist available there to offer advice.

The PEP program, however, is the marquee effort. A September Department Notice invited volunteers to sign up for this eight-week program, which began in October when volunteers completed questionnaires about their eating and activity habits. They were each then given individual goals for nutrition and activity and shown on a continuum how they might expect to improve by the eight-week programs' end, according to MED Health Promotion Coordinator Susan Houck.

Big Savings

Wellness programs are growing among employers nationally, and one reason is to save money. Research reported by pollster Gallup Inc. this year found that the average sickness-related cost to employers of healthy employees was half that of less-healthy co-workers, $723 versus $1,488. Healthy employees may be more productive and better able to deal with workplace stress.

When the Office of Personnel Management announced the Wellness Initiative, the Office of Employee Relations' Work Life Division in the Bureau of Human Resources took the lead to coordinate the Department's efforts. Judy Ikels, the ER division manager whose portfolio now includes wellness, hopes to provide better information to employees about wellness programs matched to individual needs.

MED has an extensive wellness program--it manages one of the largest immunization programs of any federal agency--and its Employee Consultation Services offers confidential counseling on a variety of issues affecting employees, including stress in the workplace, family and personal issues affecting job adjustment, and the care of children with special needs, to name a few. ECS facilitates support groups to help employees manage excess stress more effectively and promote resiliency, said ECS Director Dr. Stan Piotroski. Resiliency, he said, is critical to accomplishing the challenging missions faced by employees, because a resilient employee can maintain his or her sense of well-being and get the job done.

Healthier Food

The Bureau of Administration also has wellness initiatives. Director of Facilities Management Services Harry Mahar said, "We've been moving toward healthier food choices" in the Main State and Foreign Service Institute cafeterias and providing customers there with more nutritional information. There's now a weekly farmers' market in the Main State cafeteria on Tuesdays offering locally grown produce from 11:00 to 2:30.

The A bureau has also emphasized bicycling, for its environmental and wellness benefits. Its year-old bike-loan program, which allows employees to borrow bicycles for work-related local trips, expanded this year to allow employees to check out bicycles for recreational rides during breaks and at lunch time at Main State. Mahar's office is looking to expand the program to SA-20 and other sites in Rosslyn,Va., and the National Foreign Affairs Training Center.

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To join the program, employees complete a form located on the FMS Web site or The Sounding Board. Once their applications are approved, employees can check out bicycles from a rack in Main State's basement garage near the 21st Street entrance. About 200 employees have registered so far, he said.

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The author is deputy editor of State Magazine.
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Author:Warner, Ed
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Words:583
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