Get inspired to reach this year's health goals

January 11, 2023

group exercise classLooking to make some healthy changes this year? Get inspired by fellow state workers at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The motivation to change often is strongest with a major life event looming, such as a wedding or class reunion. It can also come from unwanted news, such as bad annual blood work numbers.

You can probably relate to this.

It was the same for the TDCJ when they got their annual health and wellness report card from HealthSelect of Texas, the insurance plan administered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX).

Staff began an ongoing effort to work their benefits, lose weight and become healthier. With encouragement and support from leadership and coworkers, they’re making strides toward these goals.

A wake up call

In October 2021, the TDCJ faced some harsh realities with the health and fitness of its employees. From office worker to prison guard, its staff ranked last in participation in wellness activities compared to Texas’s other large state agencies. Its report card revealed that many employees suffered from chronic conditions like back and joint pain, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease—conditions that can be dangerous, negatively affect quality of life and contribute to higher costs for the health plan and participants. They were behind on annual exams and preventive visits like mammograms and screenings. Some employees had died of COVID during the pandemic.

“These jobs are physically and emotionally demanding. We need every bit of strength from wherever that comes from,” TDCJ Training and Leader Development Division Director David Yebra explained. We all have demands and stressors, whether we sit at a desk, manage prisoners or maintain highways. On top of that there’s the need to be a good spouse, friend and parent. Being physically and mentally fit just helps you live better.

TDCJ leadership knew that many people sought to be healthier after COVID. They brainstormed ways to help employees to lose weight and move more, resulting in the Peak Performance challenge.

Get inspired! TDCJ employees say:

How to work it: Find your why. Assess what in your life will be improved when you are healthier, stronger or have lost weight. Consider how this will affect your friendships and relationships, and work performance. What will it mean for you? When you find yourself straying from your goals, remind yourself of your original motivation. You’ll be most successful if you have systems that support behavior change, so check out this article and listen to this podcast from ERS Health Promotion Administrator Lacy Wolff.

A call to action

Taking part in workplace or other group activities and challenges can be all it takes to stick to your resolution. Feeling part of a collective effort can be highly motivating.

TDCJ employees love a challenge, and they got one. TDCJ leadership partnered with WondrTM and Catapult Health to appeal to the agency’s culture with the right mix of messaging, information and timely programs. Once more employees were aware of all the great resources readily available to them through their benefits, participation grew.

A personal appeal from TDCJ Chairman Brian Collier’s plus a comprehensive website to access all their fitness and wellness benefits at once makes a huge difference. Mid-level leaders also get on-site personal health assessments and screenings during the mandatory sergeants’ training, which includes physical and agility tests. Challenge participants earn up to four days of paid time off.

Get inspired! TDCJ employees say:

How to work it: Find your support system. Is your agency working together to get healthier and fitter? Even if your agency or institution doesn’t have a group program or offer incentives, you might be able to find other programs in your community. Consider joining the upcoming all-agency Get Fit Texas! Challenge (Read this TDCJ worker's story.) Tell your family your goals and get them involved in cooking healthy meals and being active together. Ask a coworker to go for a walk during breaks. Find an accountability partner, whether that's a person or a program, to whom you can report your progress and challenges.

Take the call

Some of the particular challenges facing a segment of TDCJ employees are the daily working conditions of corrections officers. There are security restrictions around what can be brought into the workplace, including food and cell phones. Work shifts are 12 hours. Many jobs are in rural areas, and internet service – a requirement for app- and web-based programs – can be spotty. Conditions aren’t always ideal, but that hasn’t stopped them.

Yebra’s approach is to meet people where they are and remove barriers to participation. It worked for TDCJ and it can work for you.

Get inspired! TDCJ employees say:

How to work it: Start where you are and set yourself up for success. Use the tools available to you as part of your benefits. Some of these actions can earn you paid time off or BluePointsSM (link to article Set a goal for your Blue Points) for shopping.