David Hunnicut, former CEO of WELCOA (Wellness Councils of America) was the keynote speaker at the 1st Annual Hawaii Wellness Leaders Conference presented by UHA Health Insurance

Workplace Wellness Is Good for You, and for the Bottom Line

Wellness expert offers local companies a way to improve their workplaces. Plus seven tips to improve your own life.

October, 2016

When Warren Buffett sees trends, people pay attention.

Such was the case in the early 1990s, says David Hunnicutt, when Buffett and other Nebraska-based CEOs decided that workplace wellness deserved a closer look. They founded the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) and asked Hunnicutt to lead it, launching a 20-plus-year journey to better define workplace wellness and create workplace cultures that embody healthy living as part of doing business. Recently retired from WELCOA, Hunnicutt now writes and speaks about wellness, which brought him to Honolulu’s first annual Hawaii Wellness Leadership Conference in October.

“Health is the pearl of great price,” Hunnicutt says, but is often undervalued until it is lost. “Health keeps you in the game – working, with your family – so it’s important to keep it as pristine as possible.”

After meeting with some 250 business leaders from across the state, Hunnicutt concluded that Hawaii’s collaborative culture makes it an ideal spot to cultivate a shared vision and strategy for healthy workplaces.

“At this first event,” he says, “these business leaders were talking about working together to create a healthier community.” For kamaaina, that seems normal – what we do – but, to Hunnicutt, it represented a portal to making big strides across the business culture.

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While we talk about a 40-hour work week, a 2014 Gallup report showed the average American clocks 46.7 hours of work each week, almost an entire extra workday. Add to that the time spent commuting to and from work, shopping for and buying work clothes, networking after hours with colleagues, and thinking about work, it quickly becomes evident we’re a nation in work mode the majority of our waking hours.

“Work will continually be part of our lives,” says Hunnicutt, so his mission is to teach business leaders to create cultures where employees are invested and engaged in their jobs, minimizing burnout, and improving the health and life quality of the employees.

“At a hospital, for example,” he says, “the CEO eliminates the term ‘custodian,’ replacing it with ‘care-giving team member.’ Cafeteria workers are now ‘healers.’ ” Does changing the title change the job? Only partly, of course, but according to Hunnicutt, when employees shift from seeing their jobs as dead-ends, without meaning, to places where they feel part of something meaningful, it can make a tremendous difference in their performance, health and attitude.

Interestingly, Hunnicutt doesn’t first jump to physical fitness as the foundation of wellness. “Resilience is the pinnacle,” he says. “The ability to get up one more time, to bounce back over and over again.”

He counsels business leaders to create a culture of resilience – one that values a shared vision and commitment to that vision, and embraces the daily habits that reinforce resilience both individually and collectively. To Hunnicutt, Hawaii’s annual Wellness Leadership Conference could be the collective lightening rod to make that happen. “This conference is an opportunity to leave a legacy,” he says, to create healthier and happier families for generations to come.

What does that look like for the individual employee? “The grass is always greener where it’s watered,” he says, so he offers seven tips to make one’s circumstances the best possible.

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

Remember your parents telling you to count your blessings before falling asleep? Hunnicutt agrees. “Being grateful greatly boosts resilience,” he says. Start a gratitude journal, reflect on the parts of your day that left you fulfilled and the people you value in your life.

LAUGHTER REALLY IS THE BEST MEDICINE

“We take ourselves so seriously all the time!” he says. Find reasons to laugh, especially belly-aching, tear-inducing laughter. Research proves that laughter releases endorphins, creating a sense of euphoria, not to mention the facial workout that happens when all those muscles go to work.

BE INSPIRED

Hunnicutt recommends digging into the stories of resilient, inspirational people, reading up on and studying them. They’re called “feel-good stories” for a reason, he points out. We are made just a bit better when we see the good works of others with whom we share the planet.

HAVE A BUCKET LIST

“A list gives us things to look forward to, to dream about,” he says. Write it down, keep it handy and update it from time to time.

LET THINGS GO

“Rumination is a key driver in poor health,” he says. “Looking back at the past and chewing on the same stuff over and over again.” Let that stuff go, focusing instead on the present and what’s yet to be.

CHERISH RELATIONSHIPS

“Relationships keep us healthy,” he says. Again, science backs him up. People with strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to die prematurely, are more equipped to handle stress and are more likely to live healthier lifestyles, according to well-being research. “Carve out time for these people,” Hunnicutt advises. Don’t fall into the not-enough-time trap.

GET PHYSICAL

“It doesn’t have to be CrossFit,” he says. “Walking is moving meditation.” It’s the same advice our doctor gives us: 30 minutes of daily activity can make a world of difference in both our mental and physical health.

It’s not every day that what’s good for the bottom line is also good for the individual. When that happens, it seems like a good idea to get onboard.

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