Politics

Coming Soon: A House Wellness Center for Employees

Omnibus spending bill allocated money to establish program

Coming to a House wellness program near you? The chief administrative officer is establishing a House wellness program as soon as this year. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A wellness program for House employees is ramping up, including a search for a full-time coordinator and plans for a “wellness center” storefront in the Capitol complex. 

“Having worked on the Hill for several decades, I know how rewarding it can be, but I also know how stressful it is and how it impacts you professionally and personally,” said House Chief Administrative Officer Philip G. Kiko.

A series of courses for House staff, including training on mindfulness, proved popular last year. The CAO went on to recommend that a broader, more formalized House wellness program be established, according to spokesperson Dan Weiser.

The concept of workplace wellness programs is relatively straightforward: Healthy employees are productive employees.

The fiscal 2018 omnibus spending agreement, signed into law in March, provided $380,000 to the CAO to establish a “comprehensive House wellness program.” That process is underway. The CAO posted a job opening for a wellness program coordinator earlier this month, and spaces in House office buildings are being evaluated for a potential storefront location.

The program will eventually include online and in-person courses through the wellness center on nutrition, fitness, general health and stress management. Some offerings are expected to begin in 2018, and the full array of resources will be up and running in 2019, said Weiser.

“The goal of our wellness program is to help staff combat stress and achieve greater mental and physical wellbeing. Based on the trends we are seeing in both the private and public sectors, I really think this program will help them in their professional and personal lives,” Kiko said.

The Capitol Police force is exploring options for its employees to participate in wellness programs, including professional development training and health and fitness classes, Chief Matthew Verderosa told lawmakers on the House Administration Committee in June.

In theory, these programs help employees modify their lifestyles to be more healthy. The Office of Personnel Management, which manages federal workers in agencies, but not on Capitol Hill, says the programs have the potential to lower health care costs, improve recruitment and retention and reduce absenteeism.

But studies of workplace wellness programs do not show clear results. A 2018 study of 3,300 employees by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that wellness programs — even those with incentives — don’t change employees’ behavior much. A federal study done by RAND Corp. in 2014 found most programs don’t reduce companies’ health costs.

The House wellness offerings won’t be mandatory, and the office of the CAO did not discuss incentives for participation. 

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