Business of Well-being

A Literate Workforce for a Healthy Workplace

employee health literacy

A Literate Workforce for a Healthy Workplace

Confidence is a state of wellness, of how well a person feels and of how productive a worker is.

If a workplace hinders confidence, if workers have no confidence in themselves or no confidants in whom they may confide, wellness is unattainable.

If, for example, a worker has difficulty communicating, not only because the subject is difficult to communicate but because communication is itself difficult, if a worker is dyslexic or has some other language-related challenge involving reading and writing, the more help a worker gets—the more a company does to help this worker—the more successful this worker can be.

Literacy begets confidence, just as promoting a culture of literacy begets a confident workforce.

According to the National Council for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level. This situation costs the U.S. over $225 billion each year in higher unemployment and lower tax revenue, in no tax revenue from the jobless and more crime among the jobless.

This situation creates a permanent underclass of the unemployed and the unemployable, leading to generational poverty and fewer opportunities for the poor to escape poverty.

Unless employers work to solve this problem, they will face longer and costlier work shortages.

Unless employers work with experts who know how to solve this problem, using a program that educates workers by engaging them, the problem will worsen.

The good news is that programs exist and experts know how to customize programs for workers, because the same experts know what works best among all age groups.

“This program helps all learners to engage in learning by using their senses. Listen, see, move and feel with motions, poems, activities, and more,” says Carina Powers, CEO of Phonics in Motion.

As a scientist, I can attest to the benefits—both physiological and psychological—of movement: that movement strengthens the mind-body connection, and strengthens the body in particular, resulting in better health; that the results further include lower costs for healthcare and fewer costs for employers.

Miss Powers is right about the principles of learning, a fact I can corroborate because of my work in higher education and because of the fact that my wife is an educator.

What works to engage children can just as easily engage workers, with some difference accounting for age.

The overall principle is right, that phonics and motion—combining the two through creativity and repetition—are ideal.

In turn, corporate wellness improves alongside personal wellness.

Worker retention increases as workers with higher literacy levels tend to use less sick days than workers with lower literacy levels.

Workers with higher literacy levels also tend to recover from medical absences quicker than workers with lower literacy levels.

Most importantly, and here I cannot stress this fact, workers with higher literacy have more control over the decisions they make with regard to health and nutrition.

The reason is simple, as the ability to prioritize reasons for or against a course of action corresponds to higher literacy levels.

For this reason alone companies should promote literacy, because reasoning—the act of analyzing and categorizing certain facts—has a direct impact on safety. That is to say, the more a worker can understand what he reads, the more he can do for himself, by himself, without hurting himself on the job; the more he can do for his coworkers to protect themselves too, because workers must have the dignity that independence offers and the independence to think and do for themselves.

About this fact, that literacy is indispensable to safety, let me also say how important confidence is.

To this point, lower literacy levels have a lowering effect across the board.

Low self-esteem is pervasive among workers with lower literacy levels, a fact that is visible when these workers interact with customers and a fact that is audible when these workers speak with customers on the phone.

If the services these workers provide are not optimal, or if customers complain because of weak customer service, the problem may come back to the connection between lower literacy levels and low self-esteem among workers.

Poor customer service is no recipe for prosperity, just as poor attention to detail—not paying attention to what workers need to succeed—is no way for a company to do or stay in business.

Putting a literacy plan in motion is one way for companies to put phonics and productivity in motion.

Any such a plan is an unambiguous sign of purpose, an act—a motion—to workers and the public at large expressing the value of wellness and the values that make corporate wellness a reality.

Promoting literacy is an act of decency, proving that wellness is as expansive in theory as it is in practice; that it, and by it I mean the effort to engage and educate workers, is a smart investment; that this investment yields significant returns; that compounding returns are greater still.

With literacy as our mission, with wellness as our goal, we can achieve a legacy of confidence and safety.

We can do these things now, starting with the movements to have a plan in place and a program to get workers moving toward higher literacy skills.

Let us begin a new chapter of wellness, writing and reading it together, so others may do likewise.

We have a story to share, a story of wellness for the world to enjoy and for workers to enjoy reading

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