free-ranging conversation: janet mcnichol, american speech-language-hearing association

April 5, 2011

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators)

janet mcnichol is the human resources director at ASHA. i met janet through twitter because of our shared interest in workplace wellness. janet’s been a vocal, vibrant member of the cohealth community and has shared with us the way she’s approaching wellness at ASHA. you can sum up that approach with these words: open, transparent and innovative.

fm: when and why did ASHA get into wellness?

jm: we started after we noticed in our claims report that a lot of people have high blood pressure. we thought if we made tracking it convenient, more people would do it. from there we added flu shots, a wellness fair. we stayed at this level until we moved into our new building, where we built a group activity room to hold classes. now, we have three per day: 7:30, 4 and 5. then we decided to launch some campaigns based on our health needs. we had the biggest loser, the biggest mover and a diabetes campaign last year. we’re completing another weight loss campaign and moving into a heart health campaign. we have fun. we’ve played frisbee golf, offered a kettleball class, and we recently started a hooping class.

fm: how have you decided what to offer or foster?

jm: we recently switched to unitedhealthcare, and we now have health risk assessment data. it gives us some information about the level of compliance with preventive health services we didn’t have before. the health risk assessment information was consistent with what we already knew from analyzing our prescription drug claims. we also look at trends that may affect our workplace. as part of HR’s annual goal-setting process, we read articles, studies and forecasts and then we mind-map the highlights and our observations. this year we talked quite a bit about healthcare and wellness.

fm: i noticed you wrote about this meeting on ASHA’s wellness blog.

jm: i share a lot of the behind-the-scenes work on the blog. i hope our experience can be helpful to other employers with a workplace wellness program. i also hope to engage people in our program. i love it when people comment and offer suggestions. one of my posts was about starting a wellness book club. a number of people recommended books to me after reading the post, which is how i found food rules, the book i chose for our first discussion.

fm: you covered your thinking about the book selection on ASHA’s wellness blog. what are you hoping to accomplish here?

jm: our first book club discussion is scheduled for april 28. dozens of people have borrowed copies of food rules from our HR library and more than 30 people RSVPed they’ll attend the discussion. i’m excited about the level of interest. i know many of our staff are avid readers, so i thought a book club would be appealing.

we recently redefined our definition of wellness to include four branches: fitness of body, soundness of mind, sense of purpose and mindset of sustainability. we feel the book club will provide an opportunity for us to expand our learning in these areas.

fm: you’ve also created a facebook page for ASHA’s wellness effort: inside workplace wellness at ASHA.

jm: i actually started the facebook page after a cohealth tweet chat! we spoke about getting family involved. i had no way to reach the family because our information’s on the intranet. i decided to create the facebook page so more people could see it. plus, it’s friendlier, especially for people who are already on facebook.

fm: how have people responded to it?

jm: it’s hard to get people’s attention. we share information about our wellness program on our intranet, via email, with signs and bulletin boards; there’s even a giant red blowup heart in our office to advertise our heart health program.

facebook’s just another tool for communicating. we share articles we think might interest our staff and their families. we also post announcements about wellness-related activities and events.

i like that it gives us an opportunity to reach our staff’s family. and  i like the informality and opportunity for people to comment and share information they find interesting. feedback from the staff has been positive.

fm: there’s a lot of concern about privacy when you combine social media and health information. what’s been your experience?

jm: we haven’t faced any issues about privacy.  we do have social media guidelines for our staff. they provide some general guidance and suggestions. i have a high degree of trust in the people i work with.


Leave a Comment

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Harnett April 5, 2011 at 10:02 am

Bravo to two of the workplace wellness professionals I admire the most!

I don’t know whether to thank Janet or be mad at her for getting me involved in hula hooping! I think that, as long as I avoid a class, it will become a complement to my eclectic workout routine instead of an obsession.



fran April 5, 2011 at 10:04 am

we *will* be hooping at our cohealth meetup.



Carol Harnett April 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

🙂 I know. I just ordered a “travel hoop” yesterday from Amazon.

Remind me of the cohealth meetup date so I can put it on my calendar. Philly, yes?


fran April 5, 2011 at 10:12 am

yes. date and location TBD, but based around the social health unconference on sept 19, 2011.


Greg Matthews April 5, 2011 at 11:18 am

Wow … I was always impressed by Janet’s contributions to the #co_health community, but didn’t realize how many innovative programs she’s actually enacted at ASHA. Every company and organization likes to say that it’s innovative, but it’s pretty easy to spot the ones that are … they’re the ones that are actively *trying* new things that push the edge of the envelope. They may not always work in the way that they’re intended, but done right, they never fail to produce good learning. Kudos to Janet and ASHA for giving the rest of us such great “case-study” material!


Elizabeth April 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I agree…so inspiring. Great, creative ideas to get people involved. And I love the video! How did she use that within the organization? Looks like it was part of the Biggest Mover campaign?


Janet McNichol April 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm

@Elizabeth You’re right. We used the video at the finale for our Biggest Mover campaign where we presented people with the president’s challenge certificates and other awards they earned.

Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone!


Kelly April 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm

This was an excellent interview with some great takeaways! Thank you!


fran April 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm

thanks, kelly. make sure to check out the others in the series. there’s a wealth of information from so many outstanding people.



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