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Ambar Sharma exercises in the on-site gym at Foot Levelers, where a personal trainer is also available.
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Nikhil Agrawal uses the in-building gym at Meridium, where stress relief is encouraged.
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Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission
Shane Sawyer of the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission has a 13-mile round-trip to and from work.
No matter their size, local businesses both large and small have taken the initiative to campaign for better health among employees. They’ve found that even minimal changes can produce big results, such as lower health insurance costs, fewer absences and a staff that looks forward to coming to work.
Take a look at the healthy benefits the following four companies offer their employees. You may be inspired to implement similar programs at your place of employment – or at least encourage your boss to do so.
Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission
Finding ways to fit exercise into busy schedules – work-related or not – can often be difficult. Jeremy Holmes, coordinator of sustainability programs for the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, says it just makes sense to incorporate exercise into the work portion of the day.
In 2008, the Commission became a League of American Bicyclists-certified Bicycle Friendly Business, encouraging bicycling for transportation and offering a loaner bike to staff to take to meetings.
“Making it easy for an employee to commute by bike replaces a trip they were already going to take in the car with one that burns calories and saves money,” he says. “So, they can get some physical activity without much additional time.”
Requirements to become certified include a minimum amount of bicycling activity at the site, some basic accommodations and doing work in the community at large, Holmes explains. The Commission uses the RIDE Solutions program to help build bicycling programs at other businesses.
In addition to cycling, the Commission turned unused office space into a gym for employee use. The idea, Holmes says, came from a desire to provide more employee benefits at a time when revenues were tight.
“Through donations and creative searching on Craigslist, we were able to populate it with an array of equipment, including a bench press, free weights, Bowflex machine, treadmill and exercise bike,” he says.
Many employees take advantage of these benefits, one employee deciding to cancel his gym membership thanks to the on-site facility.
“The employees appreciate having the resources on site; their presence means it is difficult to make excuses about not being able to get to the gym,” Holmes says. “It has encouraged several of us to do a better job of managing our health.”
When Bonz Hart purchased Meridium’s new building, part of his mission was to promote wellness and health, says Bob Francis, the company’s vice president of marketing. The software business, Francis explains, is not a nine-to-five job, so if employees are working odd hours or traveling extensively, they shouldn’t have to depend on an outside gym’s hours for when they can exercise.
So, Meridium provides an on-site gym facility, showers and changing rooms for those employees interested in fitting in a workout during lunch breaks or before or after the workday. The company also has an active group of cyclists and runners who gather for treks during lunch.
“Our business is tough and we need that stress relief,” Francis says. “It makes life here fun after you get an adrenaline rush from a workout to tackle the afternoon with a lot of energy.”
Productivity and a balanced lifestyle are critical for the younger generation, and promoting the opportunity for an active lifestyle was part of Meridium’s recruiting process, Francis says. If new employees came from a larger city, “we wanted to show them that we have many ways to enjoy the outdoors” and stay active.
Having these wellness benefits also helps build relationships among employees.
“You get to know your co-workers over a common bond,” Francis says. “In my role, I have limited interaction with some staff, but through cycling I’ve now spent more time with engineers that participate in the same activities.”
A company that produces postural support products, Foot Levelers cares about the well-being of those in need of such items. They also keep a continuous focus on the health and wellness of employees.
“It’s right for the business and right for individuals” who work for the company,” says Kim Frampton, vice president of human resources. “When people feel better, they work better. It drives productivity and they are bettering themselves at the same time.”
Foot Levelers provides employees with an on-site gym – open anytime – equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines, free weights and an aerobics area. Additionally, a personal trainer comes in twice a week and will help staff get started on exercise programs. If employees refrain from smoking and participate in the company’s Work Out for a Pay Out program, healthcare costs are covered 100 percent.
“We’re trying to get people more actively involved in their well-being,” Frampton says. “Many have seen improvements, such as weight loss or being able to come off medications.”
Through the Work Out for a Pay Out initiative, employees can choose activities or healthy eating habits that best fit their needs, earning points towards awards such as company products, gift cards and paid time off. For example, if they drink water or get their annual physicals, they can earn a certain number of points.
According to Hilary Kelley, public relations manager, some departments of the company will hold friendly health-related competitions, such as weight loss challenges.
“Overall, we just try to motivate each other,” she says. “Our potluck gatherings have become healthier and our vending machines now offer healthier choices.”
Adds Frampton, “Our program is just a little extra push, and employees see it as a benefit because it’s changed some of their lives.”
Implementing their WellNS program in 2008 was “clearly the right thing to do,” says Mary Pitman, health promotions manager for Norfolk Southern. Not only was the company searching for ways to cut down on medical insurance costs, but help keep employees healthy as well.
WellNS focuses on three messages, Pitman says: I’ve got the power to know my health, to quit tobacco and to get active.
“We thought these were the three most important messages to get across,” she adds.
For the nearly 2,000 employees based in Roanoke, Norfolk Southern worked with LewisGale to have onsite screenings, which include weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tests. These help employees become aware of where they need to focus efforts for better health, Pitman says.
To help employees quit smoking or using tobacco, the company changed its benefits to include nicotine replacement therapy medicine at no charge. A new program called Tobacco Busters will provide the opportunity for tobacco users to meet with a group of their peers once a week, working together to quit the habit.
“We’ll supply them with handouts and have health coaches that can help set them up for success,” Pitman says.
Being active has its rewards at Norfolk Southern, and not just physically. The company implemented Virgin HealthMiles, a program that is part of Sir Richard Bronson’s Virgin Group. Participants wear a pedometer that will calculate results onto a computer. Challenges are held on a regular basis and employees accumulate points that can be used toward cash rewards.
“The concept of getting cash rewards gets people into the program,” Pitman says. “But what gets them engaged is creating their own challenges and they become so cognizant of their activities.”
Virgin HealthMiles also features a HealthZone measurement station through which a blood pressure and scale are hooked to a computer and can track progress. Employees also earn points for measurements and improvement.
“All programs are voluntary,” says Pitman, “but we have strong participation in each aspect. It’s growing and we will do campaigns this year to get the word out.”
Norfolk Southern also introduced the Power Train program in 2011. If an employee gets 10 or more other employees to participate in an activity event – 5K or greater – for a nonprofit organization with a disease focus, Norfolk Southern will donate $1,000 to that charity in honor of the team.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community and get active for something you feel passionate about,” Pitman says.
How to Start a Wellness Program
Company leaders share their tips on how any business can implement health-related initiatives:
1. Remember to think about worker productivity. Set hours for your gym to be open. – Bob Francis,
2. Make sure your executive team is willing to support the program and participate as well. –Kim Frampton, Foot Levelers
3. You don’t have to spend a lot, but what you do spend will be made up in reduced health care costs, low turnover rates and less sick days. – Kim Frampton
4. You can find gym equipment from used dealers without having to break the bank. But you also may want to splurge on special flooring for cleanliness or a wireless audio system for less disruption. – Bob Francis
5. If you’re a smaller company, you don’t have to offer incentives, but you need something for employees to strive for and healthy habits will form. – Kim Frampton