Global Healthy Workplace Summit Brings Program Innovation to Washington, DC

By Wolf Kirsten

Regardless of country, historical background, local government, or cultural trends, workplace health promotion is vital. It’s easier than ever to fall into sedentary behaviors and poor eating habits, which is why we need more professionals throughout the world who have the talents, passion, and work ethic to help people, organizations and communities change lifestyle behaviors and improve their health.

The fourth annual Global Healthy Workplace Awards & Summit, set for June 7 in Washington, DC, is an exciting convergence of groups and individuals from across the globe who are taking health promotion to new places in innovative ways.

Although not associated with the World Health Organization, the #GHWAwards follow the WHO’s Healthy Workplace framework—a comprehensive way of thinking and acting that addresses workplace risks, promotes and supports healthy behaviors, and takes into consideration broad social and environmental determinants. The six healthiest workplaces in the world will present their programs in front of a distinguished panel of judges and audience members.

Taking place on the campus of American University—my alma mater—this event celebrates the only global awards program in the field. It’s also an invaluable opportunity for AU students in the Health Promotion Management Program to see not only how their future profession is progressing, but why those in the field believe their messages of health and well-being can and will be heard.

It’s important to remember that workplace health promotion is expanding all over the world—it’s called the “Global” Healthy Workplace Awards & Summit for a reason. No two countries are the same, thus health promotion requires tailored efforts.

Social factors affecting workplace health may vary from country to country, but certain aspects of employer health programs prove important no matter where in the world you are—factors such as:

  • Support from senior management and leadership. Buy-in from those in charge goes a long way toward workplace health advancement. Without buy-in, such progress is virtually impossible.
  • Comprehensive and integrated programming. Many modern-day programs address the physical work environment, psychosocial work environment, personal health resources, and enterprise-community involvement.
  • Worker involvement—from the beginning. Ideally, new employees are educated about workplace health programs during the on-boarding process—and simultaneously inspired to jump right in. In addition, employees’ input on programming needs to be sought from the outset. That’s a how a culture of health and well-being takes shape.
  • Following a continual improvement process (including evaluation).

Of course, implementing health promotion programs involves much more than simply building employee participation. A program is much more likely to thrive when it fits the organization’s underlying mission and goals.

Measuring success can be tricky, though—especially because health care costs are measured differently in the US than they are in most other countries. Because US employers carry the burden of direct healthcare costs, for them it is all about containing or reducing these costs. In the rest of the world, the drivers behind wellness programs are much broader, including:

  • Absenteeism
  • Productivity
  • Employee morale and engagement
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Corporate social responsibility

These factors and more can be addressed by improving overall employee health and well-being, which really should be the underlying goal of workplace health programs throughout the world. Rapidly evolving program trends and emerging technologies keep health promotion professionals on their toes. They must be flexible, apt to experiment with communication methods and programming tools in response to the changing world around them. And, maybe most importantly, they must be able to convince their leadership to support and underwrite wellness programs.

When we gather at events such as the Global Healthy Workplace Awards & Summit, we have a prime opportunity to both celebrate and learn from the best and brightest in the field of health promotion management. When we improve, so does the art and science of health and well-being.


About Wolf Kirsten

Wolf is a social entrepreneur and Founder of International Health Consulting based in Tuscon, Arizona and Hamburg, Germany. He is also a proud alumnus of the health promotion management MS program.


Ready to make an impact? Interested in networking at events like #GHWAwards. Join a passionate community of health enthusiasts in master of science in health promotion management at AU.

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