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A Best Practice Resource for Worksite Health Practitioners: The IAWHP Online Certificate Course

Section Editor(s): Pronk, Nico Ph.D., FACSM, FAWHP

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e318264cc10
Columns: Worksite Health Promotion

Nico Pronk, Ph.D., FACSM, FAWHP, is the vice president of Health Management and a health science officer at HealthPartners in Minneapolis, MN, where he also is a senior research investigator at the HealthPartners Research Foundation. He is a former president of the International Association for Worksite Health Promotion (IAWHP), an ACSM affiliate society, a coauthor of the IAWHP online certificate course, an editor of ACSM’s Worksite Health Handbook, Second Edition, and an associate editor for ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®.

Disclosure: Author declares no conflicts of interest.

In the contemporary workplace, the importance of healthy employees is largely recognized as an important means to manage health care costs and a method to optimize productivity. Sufficient evidence of effectiveness for worksite health improvement programs has emerged during the past two decades. Today, employers can have a reasonable amount of confidence that the programs will generate health improvement, attenuate the trend in health care costs, and reduce absenteeism (1,4). It is in no small part because of these reasons that worksite health programs have steadily increased in number and sophistication.

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Whereas this promise of health improvement, better care cost management, and productivity optimization leads many employers to implement workplace health initiatives, it’s not as if every workplace health program generates these benefits. As it turns out, there are some important principles that programs need to integrate into their design to be successful. Several excellent references are available to consider these design principles; some more elaborate than others, but all useful nonetheless. These references are outlined in the Table. A summary of the most important principles that cut across all of these is presented here:

* multilevel leadership

* alignment and connection to business goals

* comprehensive, multicomponent, multilevel, effective, and relevant programs

* meaningful incentives aligned with corporate culture

* strategic communications

* integration across the entire company and connection to community resources

* measurement, evaluation, and data integrity

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Much focus has been directed to the business case to persuade the executive team to invest in worksite health programs. However, once the decision is made to implement, who has responsibility for these programs? How can a company be sure that the overall strategy, the programmatic design, the type and amount of incentives, the communication strategy, and the implementation and evaluation approaches will be executed properly?

Often, someone in the Human Resource area of a company is identified to implement the programs. In many cases, the “lay” leader will contract with a workplace health vendor organization or hire staff with the appropriate expertise. Next, they will create a network of champions for the program from around the company. The champions are mostly employees who are assigned to do this work or who have a passion and interest in health to begin with. However, it is not very often that these employees come with the expertise needed to ensure a high-quality program execution.

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Where do internal program leaders and champions turn to for the much-needed information, resources, and tools? Furthermore, what kind of resources can provide some of the critical problem-solving skills that allow leaders with program responsibility and champions with interest to learn more to address many of the practical challenges they encounter daily? The International Association for Worksite Health Promotion (IAWHP), an ACSM affiliate society, has recently introduced an online learning resource designed to provide a level of education to practitioners that will allow for these questions and issues to be addressed.

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The IAWHP online certificate course is designed to provide a roadmap for designing successful evidence-based health promotion programs in the workplace (see Figure) (3). It is appropriate for practitioners, even those without formal training in health sciences. The purpose of the course is to learn how worksite health programs can reduce costs and improve productivity, to recognize best practices for sustainable and scalable worksite health programs, and to earn the IAWHP certificate or achieve credits for continuing education. The course is designed to align with the World Health Organization’s global model for healthy workplaces, a framework described in more detail in a previous worksite health promotion column in this Journal (2). Topics discussed include leadership and strategy, operations, evaluation, and integration, and the course teaches participants how to turn best practice principles into solutions that may be implemented at the worksite. For example, in keeping with the important principles of program design, the course allows the learner to:

* ensure that the wellness program’s mission, objectives, and goals align with overall objectives of the organization

* engage individuals throughout the organization as worksite wellness leaders and champions

* choose the appropriate program mix, delivery channels, and timelines to maximize efficiency and efficacy of the program

* use incentives and marketing to encourage participation and energize programs

* evaluate the effectiveness of programs using a variety of methods, including benchmarking, health risk assessments, organizational health audits, and evaluation of medical claims data

* illustrate the financial benefits of wellness programs by proving return on investment

* keep healthy employees healthy and create a supportive culture of health in the workplace

* achieve successful outcomes of cost reduction and improved productivity.

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Course Design

The course is designed to be highly interactive and offers engaging webinar-style audio presentations that will keep participants engaged. In addition, scenario-based activities, concepts that apply to real-life practices, and interactive questions allow participants to test themselves as they proceed through the course. Case studies are integrated into the course and model programs and illustrate the importance of choosing evidence-based or evidence-informed approaches. The course is complemented with a copy of ACSM’s Worksite Health Handbook, Second Edition, which provides additional content, case studies, and resource materials.

The course ends with an online examination that tests for knowledge and comprehension of the material. Successful completion of the examination will earn the participant the certificate from the IAWHP and recognizes the individual for the formal completion of the online course.

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A Relevant Resource for the Field

One of the main goals for IAWHP in creating this course was to provide a highly accessible, low-cost, high-quality resource for the field of worksite health practice. The course is accessible to all who apply themselves to promote health at the worksite — a core principle of the IAWHP mission — regardless whether they are members of IAWHP or not. The course is designed to be relevant to those who work at implementing the programs by providing context, methods, tools, examples, and connections. As the course is being implemented, we hope to receive feedback on this approach to serving the field and to learn how best to improve in the coming years.

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1. Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Affairs. 2010; 29 (2): 304–311.
2. Pronk NP. Worksite health promotion: A global approach. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2011; 15 (5): 48–50.
3. Pronk NP, Mills PR, Cherniak S, Monahan E, Baun W. IAWHP Online Certificate Course. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, Inc; 2012. Available from:; Accessed July 18, 2012.
4. Soler RE, Leeks KD, Razi S, et al.. Task Force on Community Preventive Services . A systematic review of selected interventions for worksite health promotion. Am J Prev Med. 2010; 38 (2S): S237–62.
© 2012 American College of Sports Medicine