Workplaces can be full of stressors, and stress is one factor that spikes blood pressure. Nearly half of American adults have chronic high blood pressure, known as hypertension. People with hypertension are at increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney damage, fluid buildup in the lungs, erectile dysfunction, memory loss and vision loss. Because the strain of high blood pressure can affect these and other health issues, managing employee hypertension through workplace policies and programs is one of the best things you can do to help improve the overall health of your workforce.
Often, people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, and are only diagnosed by having blood pressure checks. When symptoms are present, they can include shortness of breath, severe headaches, nosebleeds, severe anxiety and feeling pulsations in the head or neck. Older adults and African-Americans are at higher risk for hypertension. Obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use and tobacco use are also risk factors for developing hypertension. Of adults diagnosed with hypertension, only one in four has their blood pressure under control.
Kristen Lippencott, manager of well-being strategies for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said investments in programs, resources and education to prevent or manage employees’ hypertension can pay big dividends. “Most importantly, reducing and managing hypertension improves your workforce’s overall health and reduces the risk for serious complications down the road. That also reduces their medical costs,” she said. “Using the strategies below can help your employees feel better and be more productive. And implementing these ideas can create a more cohesive workplace where employees see how much you value their well-being.”
- Encourage or incentivize employees to schedule wellness visits with PCPs. Offering a partial credit on health insurance premiums or points to earn a wellness bonus can motivate employees to get screened. Employers with an Arkansas Blue Cross health plan can also incentivize completing a private health risk assessment online through Blueprint Portal.
- Provide blood pressure cuffs in the break room or restrooms so employees can monitor their blood pressure if desired. Be sure to include written instructions and a QR code to a video demonstrating how to get accurate readings. Organizations can also offer free blood pressure screenings in the workplace.
- Distribute hypertension educational materials in your online and offline communications. Whether it’s leaving free brochures about blood pressure in the break room, posting educational videos on your intranet or email, or including stats and tips about reducing hypertension in your employee newsletter, having accessible information encourages employees to learn more.
- Start a wellness and well-being program. Lippencott said these come in all shapes and sizes depending on each organization’s goals and resources, and groups can always start small and scale up as demand increases.
- Invite experts from the community to give presentations or webinars on topics like how to take and understand your blood pressure, how to reduce stress, how to take a 15-minute yoga break or practice meditation and mindfulness. Lippencott said, “We’ve found employees especially responsive when we bring in experts to teach them new things. And the sessions with experts are typically free or low-cost programming, as they’re working to get their messaging into the community.”
- Explore partnering with vendors through Arkansas Blue Cross that specialize in hypertension-reducing programs that add extra value for members pursuing goals such as smoking cessation, weight loss and reversal of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
- Work with a local gym or fitness center to offer discounted membership to employees. Or, if space and budget allow, install an on-site fitness room with cardio and strength training equipment.
- Encourage your employees to use their Employee Assistance Program to address stressful behavioral health challenges or to call our customer service representatives to request help finding behavioral healthcare or work directly with a nurse case manager to reduce their hypertension to make stress-reducing exercise convenient on their own time.
- Participate as an organization in activities like planned walks at lunch or a cycling club that gathers after hours. Another great option each January is our Blue & You Fitness Challenge, a free, three-month program in which teams from different organizations compete to win prizes and bragging rights through exercise and other wellness activities.
- Promote Blue365®, a free benefit available to all members of an Arkansas Blue Cross plan, accessible online and through Blueprint Portal. Members who sign up for Blue365 enjoy steep discounts on national brands of health, wellness, travel, lifestyle and fitness goods and services. Encouraging active participation can translate into employees wearing fitness trackers, buying running shoes or using a favorite water bottle that encourages hydration. Many of the products and services available for purchase through Blue365 can help decrease employees’ blood pressure. Employer discounts are available on some items, too, so employers can purchase in bulk for employee incentives or prizes.
“It’s important to us that your workforce stays as healthy as possible,” Lippencott says. “Addressing and preventing hypertension is a high-impact way to improve their overall health and lower your costs and theirs. We’re happy to help however we can.”