By Amy Kotlarz

Does your company serve healthy food for meetings, have a designated lactation room or have a CEO who participates in wellness events? Your answers could be the first step to creating a healthier work environment.

These questions are part of a new online tool, called the Worksite Wellness Checkup, which helps firms identify inexpensive and effective ways businesses can support employee wellness.

“That’s good for employees and good for the bottom line,” said Tami Best, healthy worksites coordinator with the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. “Healthier employees mean improved employee morale, increased productivity and fewer absences due to illness.”  

The Worksite Wellness Checkup was funded by the Rochester Business Alliance and the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency as part of their high blood pressure collaborative, a public health campaign that supports clinical coaching, peer counseling and other community health projects aimed at improving high blood pressure control.

The tool is available at

How does it work?

The assessment is a two-step process. First, a series of questions explores how an employer promotes healthy eating, tobacco cessation, physical activity and other areas. Next, based on the answers, a firm receives a wellness score along with suggestions for improvement and links to local resources. Companies are encouraged to take the assessment annually to track their progress.

“Small companies with limited budgets and staff often are stretched too thin to develop customized wellness programs for their employees,” said Dr. Cynthia Reddeck-LiDestri, vice president of health and wellness at LiDestri Foods, who chairs the healthy worksites action team that developed the Checkup. “This online tool gives them the insights and resources they need to help their employees make healthier choices. And it’s free.”

Companies are provided a template for creating individualized worksite wellness plans. The survey also enables the community to gauge knowledge around workplace wellness regulations.

“A lot of employers are not familiar with basic laws, such as the requirement to provide a dedicated lactation room,” Best said. “We educate employees on state laws, which are more rigorous than federal laws.”

The roots of the effort began in a five-year community transformation grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to University of Rochester Center for Community Health and other partners. A beta survey debuted in 2013 and was used by 75 local companies. Feedback from those businesses and University of Rochester reviewers was incorporated into the new streamlined version.

Rochester Business Alliance President and CEO Robert Duffy said, “We know that RBA members truly care about their employees, but some may be unsure about how to support their health. The Worksite Wellness Checkup is one great tool to use.”

The tool can be used by businesses outside of Western New York, but the resources are drawn from the Rochester region. Even if a company has multiple locations, the survey is intended to be filled out by a single person at the company who oversees all wellness efforts.

“The Checkup gives practical, easy to enact suggestions,” Reddeck-LiDestri said. “It was developed by people who are on the ground and have experience putting in place a worksite wellness program.”

Nazareth College

Brian McGahan, co-chair of the wellness committee at Nazareth College who participated in the beta version, said the survey helped Nazareth realize that it could benefit from the addition of a worksite wellness coordinator, a position that might be included in strategic planning. The college is also evaluating its policy on smoking, he said.

 “If the college is going to take a stance on wellness, we need to practice what we preach, and that starts with healthy behaviors,” McGahan said.

One of those behaviors is active transport. Four years ago the college started Bikes@Naz, a bicycle rental and repair shop located in a converted racquetball court. Free for the college community, the program has since expanded to include cross country skis and snowshoes.

Nazareth College received a grant through Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency from New York State’s Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play to purchase 10 bikes and helmets specifically for faculty and staff, after high student usage quickly depleted the inventory of available bikes.

“We’ve had to more than double our bike racks, and we still don’t have enough,” McGahan said.


Constellation Brands

Anne Dobbertin, manager of health and wellness for Constellation Brands and a member of the healthy worksites action team, said the Checkup contains valuable resources.

“They provide a wide variety of online tools and resources that people can pull from to promote healthy lifestyle choices and a supportive, engaged workplace culture,” Dobbertin said.

Dobbertin suggested employers also expand their definitions of wellness. As part of its employee wellness programming, Constellation Brands offers eight months each year of financial coaching assistance, to help reduce the financial stressors that can often affect physical health, Dobbertin said.

Constellation Brands also has volunteer Wellness Champions at their office locations and facilities. They lead the charge for engagement around wellness initiatives and help to bring relevant issues and challenges to light for Dobbertin. This network of open communication with employees helps her perform periodic pulse checks on Constellation’s people and programming to ensure the biggest health risk stratifications are being addressed.


Tips to increase worksite wellness:

  • Make it fun. Dr. Cynthia Reddeck-LiDestri said when she started working on health and wellness promotion at LiDestri Foods, her initial wellness ideas fell flat.
    “As a cardiologist, I had a medical view of workplace wellness,” Reddeck-LiDestri said. “That does not engage people. It’s got to be something that’s fun. You need creative people to help to develop successful initiatives.” For instance, to encourage employees to take the stairs at LiDestri Foods, crews painted a portion of the stairwell wall with chalkboard paint so that it could be used as a motivational message board.
  • Evaluate your vending machines. At Constellation Brands, items in the vending machines were graded from A to D based on how healthy they were, and the grades were posted on the vending machine by each item. “The vendors saw the same amount of profit, if not more,” said Anne Dobbertin, manager of health and wellness for Constellation. “The vendors were happy and the employees were changing to healthier items. It was proof on paper. The data didn’t lie. That was a really cool thing.”
  • Customize your programs to your employees’ needs. Wellness programming at Constellation Brands is location-specific, Dobbertin said, and is targeted to address employee needs at that location, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other issues. Dobbertin said she also designs wellness programs to be appealing to employees’ heritages and cultures.