Labor-Management Conference Addresses Workers’ Health and Well-being Status
Saturday, Jun 15, 2013

Americans are less healthy across their entire life span than citizens of 16 other wealthy nations, according to National Academies Press’ report

On May 8, 2013 Rutgers SMLR held its 8th annual Labor and Management Conference at the Labor Education Center. This year’s event was focused on facilitating a discussion on “Health, Well-being and Work,” namely the health and well-being status of workers and its relationship to work.

According to a new report by the National Academies Press, Americans are less healthy across their entire life span than citizens of 16 other wealthy nations; yet, the United States has the most expensive health care system in the world ($2.6 trillion a year).

The conference speakers addressed several issues negatively affecting workers, many of whom are overworked and overstressed. They include drug and alcohol abuse, poor dietary habits, and income inequality. Michael O’Donnell, Ph.D., MBA, MPH, was the keynote speaker. Dr. O’Donnell, director of the Health Management Research Center at the University of Michigan, shared a framework to develop effective organizations and change individual health behavior.

“We must help people to embrace their passions and achieve their aspirations through health,” says Dr. O’Donnell.

He believes that when employers embrace workers as whole beings and engage them with health assessments and financial incentives for health promotion, they will find champions who will spread the word about their organization and healthy habits.   

“Leading a healthy and productive life is not easy. It’s hard to get people to change their behavior,” says Dr. Ron Goetzel, Ph.D., M.A., director of the Emory University Institute for Health and Productivity Studies (IHPS) and vice president of Consulting and Applied Research for Thomson Reuters, who spoke at the conference.

Dr. Goetzel shared 10 modifiable health risks associated with employer-employee health care cost and discussed how health promotion programs can prevent diseases caused (at least partially) by lifestyle, such as obesity and hypertension, thereby decreasing the amount of money spent on health care.

Paul A. Landsbergis; Ph.D., Ed.D., MPH; a LSER alumnus and associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at SUNY Downstate’s School of Public Health, also gave a talk. He discussed the impact of work organization and job design on health, health behavior, and collective bargaining approaches.

In addition to the speeches, a panel of leading wellness advocates and professionals discussed best practices in the workplace. Members included:

  • Padma Arvind, M.B.A, Ph.D., director of the New Jersey Healthcare Talent Network, who served as the panel’s moderator.
  • Mary Horbelt, the secretary of Central Division Council, OPEIU Local 153. Ms. Horbelt is the markout hub specialist for PSEG.
  • Joanne Kinsey, MS, CFCS, the family and community health sciences educator of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Atlantic and Ocean Counties.
  • Kathleen B. Kostecki, M.B.A, the health & welfare manager for Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG).
  • Amy E. Whelton, M.B.A, GBA, a member of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey's marketing and product development team. Ms. Whelton is responsible for the development and implementation of a number of health and wellness initiatives, including worksite wellness and EAP programming.

Siobhan Gibbons, Ed.D., staff psychologist at Rutgers University and an expert in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), led an innovative session on mindfulness meditation, a cost effective approach to stress reduction that has been successful in improving people's physical health and emotional well-being. Ms. Gibbons explained ways in which attendees can use intentional awareness of all of their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensation of what is going on around them to reduce stress and gain insight in problem solving.

The“Health, Well-being and Work” conference was organized by Labor Education and Research Now (LEARN), which offers a wide range of noncredit and continuing education training programs for union members and management representatives, as well as the organizations and professions that are associated with these groups. LEARN students are emerging leaders across the state of New Jersey who want to enhance their personal knowledge and workplace skills.