Big thanks to DIG Magazine for the incorpoprating me into their fitness article. High Five!
No matter what you think about ObamaCare, no one can argue that healthcare costs are very high right now.
Health insurance has quickly become a no-win situation for both employees and employers. No one wants to foot the ever-increasing bill for insurance coverage.
Here in Baton Rouge, one man has a great solution. Denver Benton helps companies develop corporate wellness programs that both benefit employees and reduce healthcare costs for the employer.
“I think all companies can be more active in their employees’ health,” Benton said in an interview last week. “Because that’s their bread and butter – their employees.”
Benton is part of a growing national trend in corporations to tackle healthcare through prevention. From offering yoga classes at lunch to building a weight room in the basement, more and more business are taking an active role in the health of their employees – and the employees are loving it.
Developing a wellness program
Benton has been developing personal wellness programs for a while. He’s a professional running coach, a fitness consultant, and he teaches the occasional fitness class. About a year and a half ago, Benton turned his attention, and skill set, to corporations.
“There’s such a need for corporate wellness programs,” he said. “Most places don’t offer anything to their employees. I saw a need for it.”
Benton said he first became interested in the idea when a friend of his working at Albermarle approached him.
“They wanted to provide more to their employees, more than just a discount at the gym,” he said.
He sat down with Maria Rowland, communications program manager at Albermarle Corporation, and head of the wellness committee there.
“We started the emphasis on wellness, just because of healthcare costs,” Rowland said.
“We started bringing in [Benton] to do boot camp.”
Benton primarily establishes a fitness program for the company that employees can easily manage.
“Whether they want someone to come in and do yoga twice a week, or they want a running coach to come in and do a half marathon class. I just do the logistics of that,” he explained. “You sit down with people, and you say, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I tell them what’s doable and what’s not doable. Most things are doable, more than they even imagine. Then, I help them to build a program around what they want.”
The response he has gotten over the past year has been outstanding.
“About a year and a half, I’ve been working with a good bit of business around town,” he said. “It takes a little while to develop the programs. I might take one company for like a month. I’m working with about five or six companies right now.”
Getting employees to use it
A corporate wellness program is only as good as the number of employees that use it.
“The key to all of this if you can have it convenient to the employees, they’ll do it,” said Rowland.
Keeping employees engaged can be just as challenging as the workouts themselves. Albermarle’s program uses wellness challenges – contests that incentivize staying active, eating healthfully and losing weight.
For example, the company hosts eight-week rounds of challenge. Employees get points for how many pounds they lose during the round, or how many fruits and vegetables they eat every day. The wellness program incorporates group activities with personal challenges, allowing individuals to choose how they participate. Employees can compete as “floors” – as in the employees on the second floor are competing against the other floors to get the most points.
“The group aspect has really worked,” Rowland said. “At both sites we do our challenges at the same time, and last year, both sites lost together over 700 pounds.”
The program has also shifted attention to employee nutrition, and even what types of foods are offered in the break rooms.
Rowland said that her committee uses visual cues to keep people focused on what they eat – like displaying the amount of sugar in a candy bar in a bowl.
“It’s all about what it’s home with people – when you see that much sugar.”
Rowland said her committee is also looking at making sugary items in the vending machines more expensive, to discourage poor snack choices.
“Employee nutrition our main thing,” Rowland said. “It’s great that we loose all this weight, but we got to keep it off.”
Albermarle’s wellness program has become a great model for other companies to look to. The program is widely successful, the employees are becoming healthier and healthier, and they’ve even organized their own marathon events for employees.
It is catching on,” Rowland said. “It started out just me and the nurse, and now we have a whole committee.”
Not just for the Fortune 500s
Corporate wellness programs have recently trended across the country for larger corporations, and companies in Baton Rouge are finally beginning to hop on the bandwagon.
“I’m the only person in the last few years to do it [here],” Benton said. “It’s just that companies are now ready to do it. I guarantee, give it a year and a half, there will probably be other people getting involved.”
Wellness programs aren’t just for fortune 500 companies, either. In 2010, the federal government offered up $200 million to help small business develop and implement their own wellness programs. The grant, will be administered over five years, targets business with fewer than 100 employees and that didn’t have a wellness program in place. The program also will allow employers to offer reward payments of up to 30 percent of the cost of insurance coverage to workers who participate in the wellness program, and even meet certain health goals.
“It’s an evolving thing,” Benton said.
As mentioned above, there are pretty significant savings to be had in health care costs. That’s something that makes wellness programs interesting to both small business and larger, national companies.
“It helps you reduce your company’s healthcare costs, and it helps your employees see that you care,” Benton said. “If you’re doing a wellness program, you’re doing it because you want people to be healthy and happy. Everybody needs one, they just don’t know where to start.”
Five reasons to get fit for work
If you are lucky enough to work for a company that offers a wellness program, take advantage!
• Beat the 2:30 p.m. valley: Don’t you hate it when you drink a pot of coffee and are still falling asleep at your desk after lunch? Work out more, and you will be less tired (and probably drinking less coffee).
• Get sick less often: We all know what that means: more “sick” days that are actually fun days.
• Look Good. There’s nothing worse for your ego than the old desk-job derriere. Work it off and flaunt it at happy hour.
• Look good to your boss: You’ll earn major brownie points for being a team player – even outside of the office.
• Make new friends! A team challenge is a great way to get to know your coworkers better, and even to make some after-hours friends.