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Support Your Workforce with Health Literacy

Support Your Workforce with Health Literacy
4 minute read
Wendy Rentschler

October is Health Literacy Month, and it’s a great opportunity to stop, listen to your mind and body, see a healthcare provider if necessary, and make sure you understand the information you receive. We have all had to learn to live with new circumstances, often with additional responsibilities, and may not have paid as much attention as we deserve to self-care. Now is the time to learn more and care for ourselves as much as we care for others.

Defining health literacy

Health Literacy Month is about making information about our physical and mental health more available and understandable so we can make informed choices. In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched an initiative it’s calling “Healthy People 2030.” While its 355 objectives aim to “eliminate health disparities, achieve health equity, and attain health literacy to improve the health and well-being of all,” the initiative also has a tandem focus on boosting personal and organizational health literacy, which it defines as:

  • “Personal health literacy: The degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy: The degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

Claiming our right to health literacy

Telemedicine has changed how we think about doctor visits. Anyone with an internet connection can now access a wide array of medical professionals. That includes an expansion of medical expertise to retired and vulnerable populations after Medicare and Medicaid agreed to cover those appointments, as well as people in rural communities. The mainstreaming of telemedicine also shifted some of the responsibility to us to make the most of our virtual visits and understand our own health better.

So, where can you find information that’s actually useful and easy to understand so you’re well prepared when you do seek professional guidance? These are all good—and legitimate—websites:

After you’ve made an appointment with a physician, be the squeaky wheel. Arm yourself ahead of time by writing down all your questions. And once you’re in the room, insist on going through them until you completely understand the information provided to you about your health, medications, diagnoses, treatments, prognosis, and so on. Take notes, and if it helps, take a family member or a trusted friend with you to be an extra set of ears.

The business impact of a health literacy

Looking after our health not only impacts us, but the overall workforce and businesses, as well. In January, the former U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, M.D., issued a version of his Community Health and Economic Prosperity report in a digest form for business leaders—the first time that’s been done. According to the report, “Poor health generates costs for employers, such as greater healthcare expenses; and higher rates of disability, absences for illness and medical appointments, and presenteeism (working while sick) generate indirect costs that reduce workforce productivity and contribute to declines in labor force participation.”

That’s a strong motivator for businesses to promote health and wellness. And businesses and employers can take concrete steps to help their workforce stay healthy—and happy, starting with providing access to better health information and healthcare providers. Mercer recently issued a report on its global survey of over 14,000 people this spring, and found that among employees who reported receiving good or very good support during the pandemic:

  • 62 percent said their employer cared about their health and well-being
  • 41 percent were less likely to leave their roles
  • 77 percent feel energized at work

The importance of mental health

October also marks World Mental Health Day, and mental health is an integral part of an overall health and wellness plan, especially with the stressors of the pandemic and now the return to the office for many in the workforce. According to recent McKinsey & Company research, over 40 percent of the workforce have cited feelings of anxiety, depression, and other negative effects on their mental health related to returning to on-site work.

In our blog post on mental health resiliency, we addressed mental health in the workplace, and the importance employers must place on including mental health in their comprehensive health and wellness programs.

BMC’s health and wellness approach

At BMC, health and wellness is part of our BMC Cares program, both for our employees and the larger communities we serve around the world, in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

For the last two years, BMC has been recognized by the American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Achievement, receiving Gold Level Recognition in 2020 for our “culture of health” and comprehensive benefits offerings. In addition to benefits programs, BMC promotes health and wellness of the body and mind through diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, employee resource groups (ERGs), and extensive volunteerism.

Paying it forward

As part of our BMC Cares program, BMC and its employees foster global health literacy through volunteerism and donations, and we invite you to join us in supporting these organizations:

  • Vaccine On Wheels aims to immunize India’s underserved population by “ensuring access to quality vaccination for all.” It operates India’s only mobile vaccination service capable of handling adverse events (such as COVID-19) through immunizations.
  • Nutre a un Niño works with rural communities in situations of poverty in Mexico to promote child nutrition through projects that also guide their social, economic, and environmental development.
  • The Humsafar Trust provides resources, workshops, medical screenings, and treatments to the LGBTQ community in India.
  • The Lions Barber Collective is a group of international barbers raising awareness in their field for suicide prevention and mental well-being among their customers.
  • National Pediatric Cancer Center Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and clinical trials to find less toxic, more effective treatments for childhood cancer; reduce the side effects of current treatments; improve survival rates, and ultimately eliminate childhood cancer.

The more we know about our health—and empower ourselves to take care of it—the more we heal and grow so we can participate fully in our families, our work, and our communities. By fostering an environment that’s beneficial for the whole employee experience, and the whole employee, everybody wins.

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Wendy Rentschler

Wendy is the head of Corporate Social Responsibility at BMC, where she champions equity & inclusion through programming where people can thrive, feel heard, and do some of the best work of their lives. Her mantra: Gratitude is free.