Alaska - a model for workplace wellness

Alaskans ranked first in the country for overall happiness and well-being, making the state a model for workplace wellness. (Photo via NOAA Photo Library, Flickr)

Inspiration for excellent workplace wellness typically comes from successful companies or HR experts. But what if we could learn best practices for workplace wellness from a whole state?
The Last Frontier state is our source of that inspiration this year.
Alaska ranked at the top for overall well-being and happiness in the comprehensive 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The annual survey polls more than 176,000 people across the country.
The Well-Being Index measures five aspects of our lives:

  1. Purpose: liking what you do each day, being motivated to achieve goals
  2. Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  3. Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  4. Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, having pride in your community
  5. Physical: having good health and enough energy for daily life

Alaska leads the country almost every category, reaching the top spot overall for the first time since Gallup-Healthways began tracking well-being in 2008. Hawaii and South Dakota round out the top three for 2014.
Where does your state rank? Read the full analysis of survey results.
City and state rankings are common fodder for Internet listicles — and often based on shaky data — but the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is one worth noting. Not only the research comprehensive and deep, the results appear to correlate with other markers of success.
“Well-being surveys aren’t just for bragging rights,” writes Washington Post staffer Reid Wilson, in his GovBeat post, “Best State in America: Alaska, Where Well-Being Is Highest.”
“Previous surveys have found that better scores are related to positive outcomes such as lower workplace absenteeism rates, better performance at work, lower obesity rates, and lower rates of teen pregnancy and crime,” Reid writes.
Read on to find out why Alaskans are so happy — and why their state is a model for workplace wellness.

The 6 Markers of Alaskan Well-Being (And Workplace Wellness)

1. Intellectual Stimulation
“Inside Alaska, 72 percent of Alaska residents agree that they learn something new or interesting every day, which leads a real buoyancy to well-being,” Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways study, tells Voice of America.
Learning is an important psychological need, Witters says.
Are your employees learning every day? Regular opportunities in the workplace for training and education help your employees do their best work and feel confident, plus it helps your company stay relevant and competitive.

workplace wellness tips from Alaska

Recreational crabbing at Kachemak Bay. (Photo via Isaac Wedin, Flickr)

2. Outdoorsy Lifestyle
Alaska’s stunning natural beauty has a positive affect on the population.
“Alaska, I think, has that real positive effect on people’s well-being,” Dr. Patrick Dulin, director of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, tells Alaska Dispatch News.
Your company doesn’t need to pick up and move to Alaska to reap the same benefits. The takeaway here is to bring natural elements into the indoor workspace and provide employees with opportunities to be outdoors.
We’ve covered the benefits of ecotherapy in an indoor work environment — a fish tank, plants and full-spectrum light bulbs are all easy ways to increase workplace wellness. You can also promote the benefits of nature with employees by hosting lunch-hour hikes or park picnics and taking business meetings outdoors when the weather allows.
3. Social Support System for Health
Community accountability for healthy choices makes a big difference in overall health, according to Witter. When The Atlantic asks Witter what lower-ranked states could learn from Alaska, he notes the importance of a social support system to healthy habits.
“That is a really good leverage point that they could take advantage of, that cultural change of encouraging accountability to one another,” Witters says.
“It’s about having someone who has fundamental expectations of you, in how you live your life,” he adds.
Your company’s approach to workplace health needs to be consistent, practical and community-supported. Encourage company leaders to be role models for health. They will set the tone for your company’s expectations.
4. Valued Opportunities for Exercise
No list on wellness would be complete without exercise, of course. But how do you balance exercise with work, family obligations and other demands on your time?
By valuing the time you do have for it.
Alaskans, despite living with grueling winters and mountains of snow, “are the best in the nation in terms of exercise,” Witter tells The Atlantic. “Which just goes to show you that you don’t need year-round good weather to demonstrate good exercise habits.”
Outdoorsy Lifestyle is one way Alaska is a model for workplace wellness

Campers enjoying the Alaskan outdoors. (Photo via Ilya Katsnelson, Flickr)

5. Resilience
It can’t be a coincidence that most of the top states for emotional and physical well-being are concentrated in places known for brutal winters — Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana and Utah are all in the top ten.
As Reid Wilson of The Washington Post quips, “Alaskans are obviously a hearty breed: They deal with rugged terrain, cold weather and a high cost of living — and they love it.”
It appears the secret to not only surviving but thriving in such adverse conditions is developing the ability to stay optimistic, enjoy challenges and practice resilience. Often, our ability to withstand hardship comes down to how we frame it.
6. Community Involvement and Recognition
Alaska leads the nation in community pride and involvement. Why? The answer could be in the rate of recognition they get for their involvement. Recognition is a “tough nut to crack nationally,” Witter tells The Atlantic.
But among Alaskans, 28 percent say they have been recognized for helping to improve their community. That’s actually the best rate in the country.
What if the recognition rate could be 100 percent? As an employer, you have the ability within your workplace ecosystem to recognize everyone for their hard work or unique contribution to the workplace. Something well worth thinking about.
For a comprehensive guide to growing a sustained workplace culture of happiness and appreciation, download our FREE eBook: Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude.
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