Corporate wellness programs are on the rise
Fit to Lead. Literally.
Picture two employees. We’ll call them Joe and Bob. Both report for duty at 8 a.m. sharp. Both wear power suits, carry smartphones and have back-to-back appointments through 3 p.m. Both are top sales producers. Here, the similarities end.
By 10 a.m., Bob is on his third cup of coffee, struggling to stay on top of his game. When an assistant buzzes in with an urgent phone call, Bob snaps at her, remembers the client sitting across from him, and then silently kicks himself for possibly making a bad impression. Feeling his blood pressure rise, he tugs at his tie to loosen it. Getting no relief, Bob undoes the collar button and wonders whether he needs to go up a half inch on his neck size. He offers the client a coffee refill while he gets another for himself.
Joe hasn’t had a cup of coffee yet. He’s relaxed, alert and, yes, happy. He handles the unexpected call with aplomb, and makes a solid connection with the client sitting across from him when he suggests he join him in the company’s upcoming 5K run. He asks for the client’s shirt size as he pulls up the company’s web-based wellness portal, assuring the client that he’s not an avid runner. Joe tells the client about his participation in the company’s wellness program and explains that he signed up for the 5K to support his company’s commitment to charity. He encourages the client to do the same, while silently applauding himself for his creativity in finding additional time with this client to make the sale.
In this issue, I95BUSINESS asks three experts – two providers of corporate wellness programs and the CFO of a company that embraces them – to share what they know about being Fit to Lead.
Brand is president of Greta S. Brand & Associates, Inc., a Darlington-based provider of scientifically based healthy interventions for companies and individuals. Her advice and assistance is backed by more than 25 years in the healthcare industry, including working as director for disease management and health promotion for CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 2007, Greta Brand’s “Up In Smoke” smoking cessation program was cited by the American Lung Association of Maryland as having the highest long-term success.
Hoag is corporate wellness director for FX Studios, a nationally recognized salon, spa and fitness center with gyms in Hunt Valley, Baltimore and New York. FX Studio’s corporate wellness division provides services for many of the area’
s major employers, including team contests and challenges; on-site group fitness; team-building events; nutrition and wellness seminars; and a web-based, customizable dashboard for employees to support events and support the attainment of personal wellness goals.
Compton is chief financial officer for Agora Publishing, a Baltimore-based holding company for publishers of financial, health, travel and special interest books and newsletters. Agora has offices and affiliates in Ireland, South Africa, and England, as well as in four U.S. cities. Its headquarters’ “campus” of 10 historic mansions in the Baltimore neighborhood of Mount Vernon employs more than 700 people, many of whom have enjoyed the company’s successful employee wellness program that was launched in 2008 and continues to grow.
A 2013 study on workplace wellness programs reports that about half of U.S. employers promote wellness among employees, with larger employers offering more complex programs. The study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines wellness programs as screening activities to identify health risks as well as interventions to reduce risk and promote healthy lifestyles.
The 2013 study on workplace wellness identified Five Key Facilitators of Successful Wellness Programs. They are:
• Effective communication strategies: It’s imperative that employees hear about the company wellness plans often. This is crucial in companies with large, geographically dispersed workforces.
• Opportunity for employees to engage: Successful wellness programs make participation convenient and easily accessible for all employees. The study notes some focus group participants cited limited access to wellness benefits because of wait times and rigid work schedules.
• Leadership engaged at all levels: Case studies suggest that senior managers need to consider wellness an organizational priority to shift the company culture. The study notes, “Buy-in from direct supervisors is crucial to generate excitement and connect employees to available resources.”
• Use of existing resources and relationships: The study indicates employers don’t have to spend a lot of money to implement successful wellness programs if they first determine what their health insurer offers and then what independent wellness services providers like Greta Brand and FX Studios can do.
• Continuous evaluation: “Organizations from our case studies approach wellness with a continuous quality improvement attitude. Though no employers from our case studies conducted formal evaluations, all five solicit feedback from staff with the goal of improving future wellness programming,” the study concludes.
Agora Publishing has a robust corporate wellness program at its headquarters in Baltimore. Compton says the company called on FX Studios to assist with designing a program accessible to all employees. The company’s shareholders supported the plan, and agreed to build an employee gym in the large basement in one of the mansions.
“We offer 19 different fitness classes each week onsite, to keep class sizes smaller and more personal and to give employees the flexibility they need in finding time to workout. There is no cost to the employees, no need to sign up for classes, no obligation. We also sponsor up to three 5K runs each year for employees and provide training programs for novice runners with the help of FX Studios, bring in experts to speak about dieting and nutrition, and have annual health fairs with a real focus on active lifestyles, nutrition and wellness,” Compton says. “We’ve even had events like weight loss and fitness challenges amongst our employees, which adds a fun and competitive edge to the program. We’ve done a little bit of everything. It’s important to keep the program fresh and engaging.”
Stephanie Hoag, corporate wellness director for FX Studios, explains the infrastructure that supports Agora’s efforts.
“Our model is personal. It is based on engagement with our elite training staff through personal training or small group classes. This relationship drives positive change,” Hoag explains. “To bring that level of service to corporate clients, we design a portal for each client, and each employee has his or her own page. Fitness challenges, races and events are tracked through the portal, and individuals can monitor their own progress toward personal goals as well as in corporate challenges.”
With her extensive background in community health education, Brand offers services that complement the physical activity FX Studios brings to its clients.
“When I started my business, the focus was on heart disease. I work with exercise physiologists, registered dieticians and other credentialed specialists to design corporate wellness programs that get people healthy,” Brand says. “It’s nice to look good, but saving your heart, that’s really cool, too. We are the prevention people.”
Brand’s services run the gamut from bringing in heart attack and other risk assessments to designing corporate programs to address areas of concern identified by these assessments. She cites research showing a $6,000 per employee savings for each employee who stops smoking.
Brand notes corporate wellness programs reduce health insurance premiums and help companies save on other health costs, like short-term and long-term disability, absenteeism and even morale.
Compton agrees, and shares what he has discovered during the company’s five-year experience with implementing a corporate wellness program. “They bring more energy to what they do. They’re just happier. Of the people who participate, I’d say we’ve got a 50 percent retention rate.” I95