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Helping managers to improve — and not wreck — worker health

Elise Thatcher

A supervisor can have a bigger impact on a worker’s health than a primary care doctor. That’s according to the The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The federal office recently sent experts to Aspen to teach managers how to handle that power wisely.

After a recent seminar, Pitkin County roads and bridges superintendent Scott Mattice stretched his legs.

“So many of us came [to the Aspen area], or work here, because of the environment: the skiing, the outdoor activities, the nightlife, even, but oftentimes our work schedule doesn't allow us to partake in those activities,” he said.

Mattice points out that challenge can be true for workers living in Aspen and Snowmass Village or commuting from as far as Rifle.

“If we can change some of our schedules where we supply a four-day work week, that often times gives staff an extra day to either come up and do one those things, activities in town, whether it’s a concert Thursday night…,” Mattice said. “Or fishing on Friday, or maybe a couple of inches of powder on a Friday or Monday.”

Making sure workers have a way to play — and feel more connected to the community — is one way a supervisor like Mattice can maximize his impact on his workers’ health. And it’s just the kind of change suggested byChia-Chia Chang and Doctor Casey Chosewood, with the Centers for Disease Control.

At the seminar Mattice attended, Chang and Chosewood trained more than 50 managers who work for five major employers in the upper valley. Those employers collectively make up the Valley Health Alliance.

“Your physician could tell you you need to exercise, but your supervisor is stressing you out, giving you so much work you don’t have time to take a lunch break,” Chang said.

So she and Chosewood talk about making sure a worker has time to take care of personal health.

But it’s also important for a manager to check in with workers, to see if employees need more or less supervision, mentoring opportunities, or other help. An employee might have concerns about feeling discriminated against at work. Addressing those kinds of factors is key, according to Chang.

“And that improves performance and job satisfaction, which then of course increases health and well being,” she said.

After the training, Pitkin County Health and Human Services Director Nan Sundeen took those pointers to heart.

“We feel a sense of urgency,” she said. “To really involve all of the employees in our division and invite them to help us understand the culture that we have,” and what specific changes Sundeen’s office could do to support worker well-being.

Sundeen is planning on taking those steps as soon as possible.