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Applying a Socio-Ecological Model to a Health Issue

Rose Ewald

The University of North Carolina

at Greensboro

Applying a Socio-Ecological Model to a Health Issue

Overstock provides employees with an onsite fitness center which offers group fitness

classes and trainers (https://www.overstock.com/careers?tid=Careers:00:TopNav-1:Careers), and

has table tennis equipment in their employee lounge. Despite these facilities and an Employee

Wellness program, only 22% of employees met the Healthy People 2020 benchmark for duration

and intensity of weekly physical exercise, namely, at least 150 minutes/week of at least moderate

intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity, or an

equivalent combination (Healthy People 2020, 2017). Although many external factors can

influence behavior, the most likely factors influencing Overstock employees are the unique

environmental factors inherent to the Salt Lake City metro area, and the equally unique cultural

and organizational dynamics of Overstock itself. There may also be economic factors in the Salt

Lake City metro area which influence employees in ways that limit their available leisure time.

The physical environment may also have adverse effects on Salt Lake City metro area

residents’ ability to engage in outdoor physical activity. Extremely cold winter temperatures

(https://www.bestplaces.net/climate/metro/utah/salt_lake_city) limit the amount of time that can

be spent outdoors and produce an unusual climatological phenomenon, known as a temperature

inversion, which can last for days or weeks at a time, resulting in thick fog and air stagnation that

reduces air quality to unhealthy levels. A similar situation during the summer months results in

high ozone levels and particulate matter. Because of the associated serious health risks, in 2017

the American Lung Association ranked Salt Lake City’s air quality as the 6th worst in the nation

(Penrod, 2017). In addition, about 87% of commuters drive in personal vehicles, averaging 26

minutes each way (https://www.bestplaces.net/transportation/metro/utah/salt_lake_city). Even if

the extreme cold in the winter and the consistently poor air quality are not factors, the long daily

commute cuts into the time available for leisure activities, including physical exercise.

Overstock’s e-commerce business is inherently technology-dependent; other than those in

shipping and receiving, employees in customer service, sales, accounting, management, and

administration primarily use computers to do their jobs, and thus are not free to move about or

engage in physical activity while working. A review of current and former employee comments

at recruiting sites Indeed (https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Overstock.com/reviews) and Glass Door


revealed several common themes which may also be a factor. Because retail sales are inherently

seasonal, there are periods with high-volume sales during the holidays and periods with lower

volume that result in layoffs. In addition, many employees are scheduled in non-standard shifts,

and during high-volume periods, may frequently work 60 hours per week or more. Work is fast-

paced and done in teams, with success or failure measured at the team level, which increases the

stress level. These organizational factors could contribute to the employees’ reported low rate of

physical activity.

Economic factors may also affect the amount of free time available for employees to

engage in physical activity. In the Salt Lake City metro area, the average salary is $61,500, but

the cost of living is high at 7.1% (https://www.bestplaces.net/metro/utah/salt_lake_city).

Average salaries are skewed by the presence of major employers in the metro area, including

financial, health services, and professional organizations such as Zions Bancorporation,

Intermountain Healthcare, and Myriad Genetics, as well as high-tech firms such as Adobe, eBay,

Unisys, Siebel, Micron, and 3M, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_Lake_City#Economy).

Salaries in these industries are likely to be significantly higher than those paid to employees in

service-oriented positions, such as call center employees and sales personnel. Because of the

high cost of living, it is possible that some Overstock employees work a second job, especially

during low-volume periods when their hours may be reduced.


Overstock can easily implement some organizational changes that will encourage

behavioral change in their employees. Overstock’s employees are “game changers, problem

solvers, and collaborators” (https://www.overstock.com/careers?tid=Careers:00:TopNav-

1:Careers), who are passionate about doing their part to make life better, and there is a strong

corporate culture of teamwork. Based on the ecological model of health promotion (McLeroy,

Bibeau, Steckler, & Glanz, 1988), these characteristics of the employees and corporate culture

can be leveraged to create changes that support more employee physical activity. Overstock can

frame increased physical exercise as “doing their part to make life better,” promote activities that

increase group cohesion and team bonding, and encourage employees to use their creativity to

design programs or activities that they will want to engage in. Team competitions and friendly

rivalries are another way to improve relationships between team members, and between

supervisors and their staff, that can be called upon when stressful work situations arise.

These organizational changes will also affect management. The new corporate culture

will mean that management styles will need to change, and this may include stress reduction

training for managers and supervisors. Management and supervisor support for the new

corporate culture can be communicated by participating as equals in group competitions, by

adopting worksite policies that support increased physical exercise, and by implementing

changes in the way work is structured. The new group behavior patterns can also be supported

by group incentives that would reward the entire team in some way, perhaps financially or with

time off from work so the team can participate in a competitive event, or by individual incentives

for achieving and maintaining activity targets, such as cash bonuses or additional PTO time. A

corporate commitment to creating a healthier work environment that incorporates opportunities

for more physical activity will not only reduce stress and increase physical activity, but will

ultimately create healthier, happier employees.



Healthy People 2020. (2017). 2020 Topics and Objectives: Physical Activity. Objectives. Office

of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from


McLeroy, K. R., Bibeau, D. L., Steckler, A., & Glanz, K. (1988). An ecological perspective on

health promotion programs. Health Education Quarterly, 15 (4), 351-377.

Penrod, E. (2017, April 18). American Lung Association ranks SLC in top 10 for worst air

quality. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from