Healthier Together: Healthy Worksite Summit fosters healthy workplaces

The Healthy Worksite Summit, an annual event held since 1987, kicked off at the Lynnwood Event Center on Wednesday.

The two-day event, presented by the Association of Washington Cities Employee Benefit Trust and the Washington State Health Care Authority, is dedicated to fostering healthy environments at workplaces.

It includes wellness coordinators, safety and risk management professionals, health professionals, insurance-industry professionals, human resource leaders, and managers at public and private employers.

This year’s event was focused on mental health in the workplace, workplace wellbeing, and social connectedness.

Keynote speakers included Carla Ritz, the managing director at The Montana Institute, and Jessica Grossmeier, an award-winning researcher and author of ‘Reimagining Workplace Well-being: Fostering a Culture of Purpose, Connection, and Transcendence.”

“The pace of change has been pretty high and it’s accelerating,” Grossmeier said to KIRO 7. “We see that people are lonelier than they’ve ever been, despite the opportunities for connection being greater than ever before.”

Grossmeier also said another contributing factor was the rise of loneliness nationwide.

U.S Surgeon General Vivek Murthy raised the alarm of the epidemic of loneliness last year.

“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an under appreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health,” Dr. Vivek Murthy stated.

In adults, the risk of developing depression among people who report feeling lonely often is more than double that of people who rarely or never feel lonely, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Loneliness and social isolation in childhood increases the risk of depression and anxiety both immediately and well into the future, according to the agency.

“I see it in the statistics every day when I look at suicide rates, when I look at especially some of the things that are coming into our youth,” Grossmeier said. “They’re the workers of tomorrow. They’re our leaders of tomorrow. Their anxiety, depression, and suicide rates are higher than they’ve ever been. We do need to be paying attention to these things because that will influence business bottom line.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of remote work, Grossmeier said it’s not enough for employers to simply bring employees back into the office.

“When we look at the data just from the past year, people are saying they are lonelier at work than ever. The interesting thing is that 100% (of) remote employees are actually less lonely than people who work hybrid jobs. It’s not enough just to get back in person. We also need to pay attention to how are we interacting with others at work.”

Grossmeier said it’s important for employers to provide spaces for workers to not only interact, but feel comfortable to be themselves.

Another key is to encourage fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

“We’re seeing really high rates of people being unfulfilled and dissatisfied. In fact, one-out-of-every-two people say that they feel unfulfilled in their work or can truly be themselves at work. These things say to me that we need to be taking a different approach to wellbeing, not just addressing physical and mental health which are important and we need to keep doing that. But we also need to take a broader approach and also address things like having a sense of meaning and purpose, not just in our work but also our lives. Having a sense of social connection, both at work and outside of work. And being able to connect with something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “When we feel a stronger connection to our coworkers (and) when we feel a stronger connection to our purpose in our work, it actually helps us to be more efficient and effective and to perform better at work.”

Grossmeier also called on employers and managers to prioritize wellbeing in workplaces, which could improve overall output and retention.

“It’s becoming harder than ever to get top talent, especially here in Seattle. People are very concerned about top talent, and it’s not just in the tech sector. It’s health care, it’s education, even manufacturing… It is extremely hard to get the kind of workers that you want. So everyone’s fighting for the same talent and these things can actually help employers attract and retain the best employees,” she said. “I think it’s really important for leaders to pay attention to their own behaviors. It is really challenging because (managers) feel like you’ve got to constantly be focused on what are the performance goals, what are the KPI’s we have to be reaching? But one of the things I realized in my career when I was in a vice president role, and I suffered significant burnout over a decade ago was it wasn’t necessarily about changing what I did for my job. It was changing how I approached my work.”