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WorkWell KS helps create COVID-19 guide for employers

May 28, 2020

Elizabeth Ablah, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor with the Department of Population Health at KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Elizabeth Ablah, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor with the Department of Population Health at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, led a team at WorkWell KS in helping develop the Total Worker Health® Employer Guide: COVID-19 Edition.

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

With COVID-19 pandemic precautions and restrictions causing employers to change how they run their organizations, a workplace wellness initiative based at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita has helped create a guide giving employers evidence-based strategies to help keep worksites and employees healthy while responding to a pandemic.

WorkWell KS, which is led by Elizabeth Ablah, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor with the Department of Population Health at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, is a worksite initiative that partners with businesses and organizations in Kansas to provide resources for creating, supporting and promoting workplace and employee health and wellness initiatives.

WorkWell KS collaborated with the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest in Iowa, the Nebraska Safety Council and the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition to put together the 37-page employer pandemic response guide.

All four of the workplace initiative groups ramped up their efforts to create a timely document they could offer to employers in their respective states, said Ablah, who's been overseeing WorkWell KS since its inception in 2011.

"We had a very, very ambitious timeline," she said. "We developed and produced the guide and hosted a webinar in less than three weeks."

During the April 29 webinar - when information about accessing the guide was released - human resources staff from a medical practice, a multistate manufacturing business and a public school district made presentations and answered questions about how their organization was responding to the pandemic. The webinar attracted more than 900 registrations and more than 600 unique viewers, according to the collaborators.

The guide, which is available online, includes checklists and links to other resources that can help employers stay on top of worker wellness and employee situations during a pandemic.

It breaks down the issues into four main categories: overall worker well-being, hazards for employees working remotely, hazards for essential workers who need to stay on the job and return-to-work guidelines.

Ablah and WorkWell KS staffers Allison Honn, Melinda Kellogg and Mason Rohleder took the lead on developing the worker well-being section that addresses situations that aren't confined to just the workplace - issues like feelings of fear and hopelessness, dealing with finances, having limited social interactions, disruptions in physical activities and daily routines, family support, and access to health care. That section fills six pages within the guide.

"We all have had to figure out how to balance multiple aspects of health," Ablah said.

Many surveys indicate people are struggling with mental health and physical inactivity along with financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

In the worker well-being section, for example, the guide suggests holding fitness challenges, offering temporary pay increases to compensate for increased job risks and temporarily restructuring leave and health care benefits, and helping employees address caretaker concerns of other family members.

The other sections offer suggested guidelines on topics such as balancing work and life demands, keeping team dynamics while working from home, worksite issues for essential employees who must keep working on-site, as well as return-to-work strategies.

Also included are several case studies from employers who have already been working with the four-state workplace wellness initiatives that put the guide together.

C.J. Foods, a pet foods manufacturer based in Kansas with plants in multiple states, has partnered with WorkWell KS for the past five years, ever since the company started to offer wellness programs and benefits as part of its HR package, said Michelle Darnell, a human resources and benefits manager.

It was one of the companies that shared its strategies for both the guide and webinar.

"As part of our partnership with WorkWell KS, I was willing to share some of the things we're doing as an organization," Darnell said. "I wanted to share the multifaceted approach we've had to take because we have different plants in different states."

As needed, the employer pandemic guide will be updated by WorkWell KS and the three other state wellness programs, Ablah said. The Total Worker Health® Employer Guide: COVID-19 Edition, webinar and other COVID-19 resources can be found at workwellks.com/resources/well-being.

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: May 28, 2020
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Belinda Venters
316-293-3536
bventers@kumc.edu

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