Companies invest in employees’ health through corporate wellness programs
Last winter, TerWisscha Construction divided its 12 office employees into two teams and pitted them against each other in a friendly weight loss competition.
Over the course of seven months, TerWisscha employees tracked their physical activity, which could include anything from running at the gym to shoveling snow outside, and had monthly weigh-in sessions with Duininck Chiropractic to record their progress.
By spring, the office had lost a collective 171 pounds and 26 inches around the waist — and though Team Mission Slimpossible managed to eke out a win over Team Biggest Losers, there were really no “losers” at all.
“We wanted to build an awareness of healthy eating and how exercise can affect our lives,” said Kammy Nelson, human resources coordinator at TerWisscha. “Our goal was really just to get people moving, and it worked.”
TerWisscha saw 100 percent employee participation in the program. Staff had plenty of incentive to participate: the two individuals who lost the most weight and recorded the most fitness points each won $750, and each member of the winning team won $500.
“The prizes were really great motivation,” Nelson said. “More than that though, we had fun with it. It gave us a way to have fun together that wasn’t work-related. I was surprised by the camaraderie it brought among everyone.”
This winter, TerWisscha wanted to try a new wellness program and chose to implement a Fitbit initiative. A Fitbit is a wearable device that tracks a user’s steps, distance traveled, calories burned and active minutes. All TerWisscha employees, both in the office and in the field, were given the option to purchase a Fitbit, with the company covering 50 percent of the cost.
To make it an office-wide effort, TerWisscha also organized an online Fitbit page, similar to a Facebook group, where employees could see each other’s progress and engage in friendly competitions over amount of steps walked in a day.
“You see where you rank among everybody,” said Lindsey Donner, marketing coordinator at TerWisscha. “It’s definitely helped increase my own awareness. I’ll see how many steps other people already have that day and think to myself, ‘oh, I better go to the gym on my lunch break.’”
These kinds of fun, positive programs at the office can have a big impact on employees’ health and wellness, according to Kelly Tauber, ReYou wellness coordinator at Rice Memorial Hospital.
Tauber and ReYou wellness coach Amber Chevalier worked with TerWisscha to develop its Fitbit program.
“When I’m working with businesses, I’ve seen employees walking the hallways on their breaks, rather than sitting down to have coffee,” Chevalier said. “That’s awesome to see. There are so many health benefits to being more active like that.”
Funded by a three-year grant from Allina Health and the George Family Foundation, the ReYou program, now in its second year, works with Willmar businesses to provide free biometric health screenings for employees, individual health coaching and direction on how to implement health and wellness programs.
In the first year of the ReYou program, Tauber and Chevalier worked with 25 businesses and organizations. Based on aggregate data from employees’ initial health-risk assessments, the program has partnered with these businesses to best address their employees’ health needs and concerns. The program looks at the entire health spectrum, including sleep, nutrition, stress, drug and alcohol use, pain management and overall well-being.
“An employee’s health can affect how productive they are at work or just their attitude at work, which affects the company in many different ways,” Tauber said about the importance of having a wellness program in place. “With all of the changes in health care, this is also a great resource for employers to encourage their employees to take a proactive approach to their health and wellness.”
According to Britney Lingl, health and wellness director at the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA, businesses with corporate wellness programs can cut down on sick days — and possibly even decrease health insurance costs long-term.
“If you don’t have healthy employees, their health insurance will go up dramatically,” Lingl said. “If you’re the one providing their health insurance, you should be looking at the long road ahead. Insurance gets more expensive as individuals age. If you have plans in place, you can give employees the option to be healthier and also decrease that financial toll down the road.”
While the financial benefits may not be immediate, TerWisscha has already seen a difference since implementing its employee wellness program last year — not only in its employees’ waistlines, but also in the culture around the office regarding health, exercise and nutrition.
“I think people are more knowledgeable now about eating healthy and being active,” Nelson said. “Nobody has to feel foolish pacing the floors, because we’re all in it together. People talk about the food sitting on the back counter and know how to count those calories. There’s just more overall awareness in the office.”