Published in the New Hampshire Business Review
November 16-29, 2012

By Terry Johnson, Director of Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL NH)

Nobody said it would be easy, and company officials admit there were some "showdowns" and work-arounds to overcome, but a New Hampshire lumber company is offering a case study in taking traditional workplaces through a healthy environment evolution – from offering walking paths all the way to a property-wide tobacco ban.

"As of March 15th, there was no smoking on the property and we were a bit apprehensive about how some of our employees would react," said company president, Doug Hamshaw. "I was surprised at how receptive most people were. I think it was a huge help that we started talking about this policy change six months in advance and I sat down with people individually to discuss why we were doing it."

Hamshaw Lumber Inc. has two locations in Keene, New Hampshire and Orange, Massachusetts, and over 100 employees ranging from 16 to 80 years old.

The tobacco-free move comes as part of year-long focus on what company leaders call a "more strategic approach" to wellness on the worksite, introducing several new programs and policies. They turned to several partners, including Cheshire County HEAL, to help determine which projects and polices would make sense for the company and the employees.

Last year the company conducted its first annual health screening program called "Know Your Numbers." Working in partnership with Cheshire County HEAL, supported by Cheshire Medical Center and Hamshaw's insurance company, confidential screenings, including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI), were made available to all employees. The results were reviewed with a nurse, who provided counseling to help establish healthy eating and activity goals for individuals.

The company also looked at the data in aggregate (not at individual data) to help determine wellness programs, goals, and track progress.

Encouraging employees to walk more during breaks was identified as a top priority of their new wellness program, so Cheshire County HEAL helped engage Keene State College geography class students to establish 10-minute and 30-minute walking routes around the Hamshaw Keene campus.

In addition to tapping into resources from outside partners, organizers of efforts like Hamshaw's note that how a company communicates worksite wellness initiatives and policy changes is an important part of obtaining employee buy-in. But when Hamshaw's management decided to become a tobacco-free campus, they knew it would require deliberate communications, over time, and on multiple fronts.

After all, it was only a few years ago when smoking was relatively common, even in the work areas, and some workers have spent decades under the old smoking cultures.

Hamshaw explains that managers started communicating with their fellow employees about the tobacco-free campus policy six months before the change was to take place, including posting the new policy around the campus and even attaching it to paychecks.

At that same time, an incentive program was offered to any employee who wanted to quit using tobacco products.

In the months leading to the March 15th ban, Hamshaw and Cheshire County HEAL hosted lunchtime talks with the Program Coordinator for Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities from Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene to provide support for employees.

Doug Hamshaw and other managers continued to communicate with employees about the policy change by having impromptu conversations with employees, focusing on those who would be most affected by the change.

When the new policy took effect, signs were posted at all Hamshaw's campuses and at every entry point. A lunchtime meeting with Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco Free Communities was also scheduled that week to provide additional support to employees.

Even with all the communication and support around the policy change, Doug said there were "some showdowns" once the policy was implemented. Some people tested it immediately, and others would walk or ride off the property during their breaks so they could smoke.

"Success is not simple or easy," says Doug. "A few people have quit smoking and the health insurance company has noticed our tobacco-free policy, but it is still a work in progress."

For more information and resources for business starting a workplace wellness program, please visit our comprehensive resources for worksites page, or contact us for more information.

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