Power to the people

Alabama Power Company allows employees to shape and guide worksite health promotion program, now in its second decade.



Power to the people

By Mike Perko, Ph.D., CHES and Jim Eddy, D.Ed. CHES

Alabama Power Company allows employees to shape and guide a worksite health promotion program, that's now in its second decade

One of five major U.S. utilities operated by the Southern Company, the nation's largest producer of electricity, Alabama Power Company (APCo) provides power to the people, both literally and figuratively.

APCo started out by supplying electricity to iron mill camps in and around Birmingham at the turn of the century and now serves nearly 1.3 million homes, businesses and industries in the southern two-thirds of Alabama. Through it all, this electrical powerhouse has maintained a culture that puts people first. Maybe this is why so many employees are second, third and even fourth generation APCo workers.

In 1991 APCo looked beyond prepackaged health promotion programs for weight loss, fitness and any number of other offerings and chose one that stressed building from the ground up with lots of employee input. APCo partnered with Jim Eddy at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Eddy had run the successful Center for Worksite Health Enhancement at Penn State for eight years before coming to Alabama.

APCo asked Eddy and his staff to visit a representative number of APCo sites and assess the needs of employees face to face. Maybe the line crews wanted a different twist on a nutrition program than the customer service representatives did. A medical self-care program may fit the needs of the engineers, but not the shift workers. That process of discernment was the genesis of the now nationally recognized Good Health Makes $ense program.

Since 1991, the GHM$ program has embraced the belief that healthy employees are more productive and use the health care delivery system less, thus helping to contain costs. GHM$ implemented a flexible process to design a program that improves the health and well being of employees and their families and is based on their needs and interests. The Vision Progress Survey and the GHM$ Health Communication Model are two examples of how this process works.

One of the many assessment data tools that the GHM$ staff uses to gauge employee needs and interests is APCo's "Vision Progress Survey." Jeff Cofield, APCo's HR representative for GHM$, reported that the "VPS" found stress to be a key variable impacting work life of the employees. APCo responded by implementing organizational changes to reduce the cause of some workplace stress, and from September 2000 to April 2001 GHM$ conducted various stress management programs at 40 different APCo sites for 2,881 employees, or 43 percent of the APCo employee population. In essence, a health promotion need was identified, the organization implemented macro level changes to reduce the root cause of stress and GHM$ conducted micro level programs for employees to help them manage stress.

In addition to health programs, GHM$ has been deliberate in the design of a flexible process of health communications. For example, in the early 1990s, the primary modes of communication between GHM$ and employees were direct mail, posters/fliers, newsletters, and a toll-free phone service. In the mid-1990s the program added interactive satellite broadcasts and linear video production. And today, e-mail and web-site applications have been added to the mix. GHM$ has established effective two-way communication with employees and developed a wealth of data on their health promotion and disease prevention needs and interests. That data has guided implementation of a comprehensive array of programs.

Employee participation in GHM$ has increased in each of the past 10 years. Bob Webster, associate director for GHM$ programs, reports that "across the life of GHM$ at APCo, even though the employee population has declined due to normal corporate restructuring and outsourcing activities, the number, and therefore the percentage, of employees participating in GHM$ health promotion and disease prevention activities has increased."

More recently, the GHM$ program has designed a variety of web-based program activities (www.healthes.com/ghms ). Because APCo has built an infrastructure that gives more employees access to the company Intranet, the web has become a logical way to deliver health promotion program activities. Erik Bjornstad, MPH, Assistant Director of GHM$ indicates that "although data on web site use are preliminary, there is an increase in the number of employees accessing GHM$ programs on the web. And, this increase in web-based participation has not adversely affected employee participation in on-site programs." In the first quarter of 2000, over 2,700 employees participated in web-based activities. In the first quarter of this year, nearly 7,100 employees accessed GHM$ programs on the web.

Based on the success of web-based program activities, the GHM$ staff plans to design additional web-based activities using streaming audio and video capabilities. The staff is also developing on-line needs assessment and health risk appraisal activities. These on-line applications will complement GHM$ on-site programs and other health communication activities.

The GHM$ program has been a measured success over the past 10 years because of its focus on employee needs and interests, an integration into the fabric of Alabama Power' corporate culture and the use of a program design and implementation model that allows for the effective implementation of new and diverse program activities to meet the changing needs of employees and the corporation.

Mike Perko is Assistant Professor of Health Education at University of N. Carolina at Wilmington and the former Associate Director of APCo's GHM$ program. Jim Eddy is the current director of GHM$ and a Fellow of both the Association for Worksite Health Promotion and the American Academy of Health Behavior. He can be reached at (800) 723-6134.


Mike Perko, Jim Eddy. Power to the people. Business and Health 2001;5:49.