Focus on wellness in the workplace is profitable in more ways than one

Ann Gabel, director of education and learning services at Lawrence Memorial Hospital smiles her way through a series of stretching exercises during the first WorkWell Lawrence Symposium on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, at the Holiday Inn Lawrence, 200 McDonald Drive. Gabel and other professionals listened to speakers tell stories of their efforts to help create a healthier workplace.

Ann Gabel, director of education and learning services at Lawrence Memorial Hospital smiles her way through a series of stretching exercises during the first WorkWell Lawrence Symposium on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, at the Holiday Inn Lawrence, 200 McDonald Drive. Gabel and other professionals listened to speakers tell stories of their efforts to help create a healthier workplace. by Nick Krug

It is estimated that 80 percent of health care costs are a result of our behavior: smoking, sitting on the couch, eating too many doughnuts.

One of the biggest influences on our behavior is the workplace, where we spend about 50 percent of our waking time and develop some of our closest relationships.

Lenora Larson, 68, who has worked in the health industry for years, said that’s why employers need to create a culture of wellness.

“For many of us, our most important relationships are our co-workers,” she said. “There’s also this huge peer pressure. If most of your co-workers smoke, you are more likely to smoke. If all of your co-workers are giving up smoking, you are much more likely to engage in giving it up as well. It’s the peer pressure factor.”

Larson was the keynote speaker during the first WorkWell Lawrence Symposium today at the Holiday Inn Lawrence. About 50 people attended.

Larson is director of business development for New Directions in Leawood, which provides health coaching for more than 8,000 companies in the Midwest.

She said out of every 100 employees:

• 60 — are sedentary.

• 42 — are stressed.

• 17 — smoke.

• 15 — are substance abusers.

• 64 — overweight or obese.

She said employers can’t change their employees’ behaviors, but they can educate them and make it easier for them to make the right choices.

“It’s not something you can force from the top down. You have to create an environment so employees choose wellness,” she said.

Keynote speaker, Lenora Larson, director of business development for New Directions, takes questions during a break at the WorkWell Lawrence symposium on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.

Keynote speaker, Lenora Larson, director of business development for New Directions, takes questions during a break at the WorkWell Lawrence symposium on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. by Nick Krug

Keys to success

Lenora outlined what makes a wellness program successful. Among her key points:

• Senior management. They must support the concept and lead by example. If they are willing to provide money or other incentives, that’s even better. Money and paid time off are huge motivators.

Wellness champions. These are not necessarily people who are fitness gurus but people who may not be making the best health choices themselves. The more people who are involved, the more success a company will have.

Employee surveys. It is really important to find out what workers want. Some examples: smoking cessation programs, nutrition lessons, onsite exercise classes or gym discounts.

Change it up. Businesses have to offer something new to keep people motivated. Among her suggestions: health fairs, Weight Watchers club, onsite educational workshops and healthy recipe contests. Lenora said her favorite wellness activity was an athletics contest where there were different stations — bowling, golf putting, ball throw — in each senior manager’s office.

“It not only focused on wellness, but team building within the organization,” she said.

Lenora described wellness programs as a win-win for employees and employers. They can increase productivity and lower health care costs.

She said the city of Olathe spent $284,000 on its program and saved $1.4 million in the first year. IMA of Kansas Inc. in Wichita reported that employees who participated in its wellness program had 39 percent lower medical claims.

“It’s such a positive thing to do for your employees. It’s a way of creating employee engagement and buy-in, in addition to the productivity and claims cost,” she said.

Sally Luck, human resources director for corporate services and wellness at Hallmark Cards Inc., addresses those gathered for the WorkWell Lawrence Symposium and gives a bit of history about the company's wellness efforts during a panel discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Lawrence, 200 McDonald Drive. About 50 people attended the symposium.

Sally Luck, human resources director for corporate services and wellness at Hallmark Cards Inc., addresses those gathered for the WorkWell Lawrence Symposium and gives a bit of history about the company's wellness efforts during a panel discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 at the Holiday Inn Lawrence, 200 McDonald Drive. About 50 people attended the symposium. by Nick Krug

Local companies weigh in

During the symposium, representatives from four Lawrence companies talked about their wellness programs. Here are their success stories:

Hallmark Cards Inc. — Sally Luck, human resources director, said the company began offering an online incentive program in January. Employees earn points by getting a health screening, exercising, joining a gym or participating in a tobacco cessation program. They can redeem the points for a gift card or paycheck credit. Each employee can earn up to $250 annually. She said about 4,500 employees are participating and have already earned about $500,000 in points.

Cottonwood Inc. — Gay Ann Quinn, training coordinator, said the company, which has about 250 employees, recently had a health fair with 14 vendors. The fair drew about 100 participants. The company has had a wellness program since 2003 and they’ve found that “money works.” They are getting ready to offer a four-week wellness program and offering $250 in prizes.

KU Endowment Association — Clark Cropp, vice president for senior administration, said KUEA provides four hours of paid time off to employees who complete a Health Risk Assessment, or HRA, and a followup survey. He said about 80 percent of its 140 employees complete the HRA. Next year, they plan to add a cost reduction on health insurance premiums for those who participate.

Allen Press — Angie Sommers, benefits coordinator, said the company offers four hours of paid time off for those who attend at least four seminars about health-related issues and complete an HRA. It has 268 employees and about 70 percent complete the health assessment. Sommers’ goal is to have a smoke-free campus in 2012.

Tagged: WorkWell Lawrence

Comments

TrishUnruh 2 years, 6 months ago

I was not able to attend the symposium but I have loved taking a gentle yoga series during my lunch hour at the Health Department. I am terrible at yoga but attending the class with friends from work who were just like me made it easier. We could all laugh and felt great when we finished.

I often get home at 6 pm or after so being able to exercise with friends at work is great. The last thing I want to do when I get home is pull on my tennis shoes and go exercise.

This Wednesday we got some great ideas on how to find healthier options in the grocery store and make low fat brownies with black beans. I know at least 3 people who want to try the recipe this weekend. I spend a significant amount of time at work and I have learned and participated in activities I probably would not have done on my own.

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jfhoosier 2 years, 6 months ago

Even if you agree that companies have ulterior motives, is it wrong to take advantage of an opportunity? If you have risk factors to your health, and someone is providing opportunities to alleviate the risk why not do it for yourself. Their motives and your motives don’t have to be the same, but the results can be beneficial to each. Many of these companies are also providing incentives so you can have 2x the success. These programs are trying to address the increased need for time to get healthy. Everything doesn’t have to polarize the world. Sometimes we just have to take things at face value and relax (free health tip).

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geoismeo 2 years, 6 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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geoismeo 2 years, 6 months ago

I worked at one of the above mentioned workplaces when they introduced stretching exercises like the one in the photo. I felt demeaned.

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toe 2 years, 6 months ago

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TheEyeofUS 2 years, 6 months ago

"One of the biggest influences on our behavior is the workplace"...

...And to solve this problem employers need to stay OUT of people's lives. That's what causes all the stress and bad behavior in the first place. These HR people think that employees believe they (HR & the corps.) are really concerned w/their safety, health and bla, bla, bla. BUSH-WAH! Give me a break. KEEP YOUR CORPORATE MINDED, MONEY-MOTIVATED, SNEAKY and UNDERHANDED NOSES OUT OF PEOPLE'S BUSINESS!! Does anybody really buy this malarchy? -HR people and Corporations are EVIL! They DON'T CARE about you or anyone else. This is just ANOTHER insult to hard working people's intelligence. Bottom line, if you want to keep your job, your best bet is to NOT hang out w/people of whom you work with during off hours - including these silly, bogus "wellness" (actually: "How can we save money and throw people out on the street") seminars!!

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Norma Jeane Baker 2 years, 6 months ago

HRA == Codename for the "actuaries figuring out if you're an insurance risk and need to be canned."

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dgcochip 2 years, 6 months ago

I attended the symposium this morning and came away energized to do what I can to promote wellness in the workplace. We've got lots of good things going on right here in Lawrence. I hope more people are able to attend the symposium next year!

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