Agencies improve employee wellness, but still have more to do

Three agency work sites received perfect scores on the Office of Personnel Management’s wellness program evaluation, but the whole government sill has legal requirements that have yet to be met, according to WellCheck program results released Aug. 29.

WellCheck evaluates federal agencies on a biannual basis on their programs to support employee nutrition, lactation support, physical activity, vaccinations and other health promotion and disease prevention programs.

Of the 181 work sites that participated in the 2018 evaluation, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region 2 and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Headquarters all received perfect scores out of 286 possible points.

On average, the government scored a 67 percent on the 2018 WellCheck, up nearly six points from the same survey conducted in 2014.

Some components of the WellCheck program are required by law, such as the need for agencies to offer private spaces and flexible scheduling for mothers to express breast milk during the workday. Other programs are simply strongly encouraged by governmentwide guidance.

But according to the WellCheck results, only 87 percent of work sites had strategies to provide the required lactation support to employees, despite the legal requirement.

Agencies were most likely to have policies that encouraged reporting of injuries and near misses, with 93 percent of those surveyed having a program that fulfilled that requirement.

Having one or more functioning automated external defibrillators, promoting flu vaccinations and providing supports for recreation and physical activity were also common practices at a majority of agencies surveyed.

“On average, agencies scored the highest in addressing vaccine-preventable diseases, occupational health and safety, and tobacco-free living. Agencies have the most room for improvement in the areas of nutrition, organizational supports, and supports for nursing employees,” acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert wrote in a memo addressing the results of the evaluation.

But participation in WellCheck dropped significantly from years prior, cutting nearly in half from the 361 work sites that participated in 2016.

To improve their scores, agencies were encouraged to first implement the strategies required by law and governmentwide policy, then prioritize strategies that would offer the highest impact, communicate the importance of employees using their health benefits offered under the federal healthcare system, concentrate efforts on nutrition and lactation support and create a working environment where employee health and safety are valued.

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