Helen Eddy is the executive director of the Healthiest State Initiative and is the assistant vice president of health and wellness at Hy-Vee Inc.

When the Healthiest State Initiative was created in 2010, Iowa ranked 16th nationally in well-being, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Since that time, Iowa made great strides and in 2012 we ranked ninth.

This is an impressive improvement in just two years — and we have much to be proud of — but there is more work to be done. That’s why the Healthiest State Initiative, the Blue Zones Project and the Partnership for Better Health continue to push Iowans to be healthier, happier and more innovative in their healthful habits.

The nation’s annual rankings are determined by interviews with more than 350,000 adults throughout the year. Each respondent is asked a number of questions in six categories: Life Evaluation, Physical Health, Emotional Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment and Basic Access.

Our review suggests that Iowa jumped to ninth place because of significant improvement in the Work Environment category.

The category doesn’t just consider physical health. Personal interactions with co-workers and the way employees feel about their work environment affect their emotional health as well. And if Iowa is to make it to the top of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, we must emphasize improving the work environment.

High job satisfaction, the ability to use one’s job strengths, being treated like a partner instead of a subordinate, and having an open and trusting work environment are just a few of the factors that make an employee feel empowered and engaged in the workplace. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. We place so much personal currency in our work that it tends to define us. If we are unhappy with our treatment or position, it reflects in our life outside the workplace, often in an adverse way.

How can you ensure a more positive work environment for your employees? Start by boosting their morale. This can be done by simply expressing a genuine interest in family members or asking about their hobbies or off-work interests. Compliment your employees when they go above and beyond. Call them by name, be specific in your remarks and connect your praise to the company’s core values. Precise, timely recognition says that you are paying attention to your employees and that they are valuable.

You also can empower your employees by valuing their opinion. Provide them with opportunities to express their thoughts on ways to enhance the work atmosphere and to implement those ideas when appropriate. Encourage your front-line workers to be engaged in workplace planning and development, because they have a key view of what works and what doesn’t.

Most important, businesses owners and managers must recognize the importance of treating employees as equals. Your workers are the lifeblood of your organization. Any increases in stature and respect will not only yield positive benefits for employees, but dividends for your business as well.  Who knows, you may find employees who can implement a cost-saving shortcut or develop a new, innovative product to build your business to new levels.

If we all work to strengthen the employer-employee relationship, we’ll continue marching to the top of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and achieve our goal to be the healthiest state in the nation.