Rising health care costs are one reason companies sponsor employee wellness programs, but the side benefits includes healthier workers, increased morale and productivity, and reduced sick leave.
Only an estimated 10 percent of the population follows a healthy lifestyle, making on-site wellness programs extremely important, according to Gary Allen, executive director of the Hawaii Business Health Council. For many employees who might not be able to adopt healthy habits on their own, the programs are effective because of the involvement of co-workers, a system of accountability, free exercise classes and support in the workplace.
Allen advises companies interested in setting up wellness programs to establish long-term goals. "You can’t incorporate a 90-day program if you are asking people to change their lives. It needs to be a work in progress," he said. "We need to help people, hold their hands through the process of changing their life."
HMSA, the state’s largest health care insurer, also offers guidance in setting up corporate programs.
"We are committed to helping employers create wellness programs because we believe that programs in the workplace have a high success rate," said HMSA Vice President Michael Stollar. "Successful wellness programs lead to healthier employees, many of whom will use fewer medical services."
For information on setting up a wellness program:
>> Hawaii Business Health Council: 372-9576
Although such programs won’t immediately lower premiums, Stollar said they "help to reduce costs over the long term by keeping employees out of the doctor’s office and away from the hospital, which reduces the overall cost of health care for everyone. It also helps to improve the overall efficiency of workers."
Here are three companies that have stepped up to the plate:
KANEOHE RANCH MANAGEMENT LTD.
Keeping fit outside on the ranch
Employees of Kaneohe Ranch meet twice a week after work to participate in a total-body conditioning class at Maunawili Park in Kailua under the direction of personal trainer Dawn Quiocho of Buff Mama. Quiocho says she has seen employees build strength and make connections with one another during the three years she’s been running the exercise program for the company.
Nutrition classes, held weekly over a three-month period, taught employees about healthy eating habits, and the company is considering a refresher course, said President and CEO H. Mitchell D’Olier.
“There has been a culture change in the office since all this started. Many participants have lost pounds and inches,” he said, adding that they take turns bringing healthful snacks to weekly staff meetings. “Healthy eating and fitness conversations are now ordinary.”
In addition to the exercise program, Quiocho provides shoulder massages at the workplace to help release tension and ease sore muscles.
“Morale is higher — employees have more personal connections. They are doing this together and have more in common,” Quiocho said. “One girl stopped smoking. All of the men stopped eating white rice and a couple women completely changed their diet.”
These folks are learning that “everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their health,” Quiocho said.
Kaneohe Ranch manages the real estate owned by the family trusts of Harold K.L. Castle and Alice H. Castle and their nonprofit charitable foundation, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.
Terry George, executive vice president of the foundation, regularly participates in the workout sessions. “I’ve been able to follow a healthier diet because of the guidance received during the nutrition classes. I definitely look at labels more,” George said.
“Not only has it made us healthier, it’s made us stronger as a team,” he added. “We get to know each other as people.”
FIRST INSURANCE CO. OF HAWAII
Rewarding staff for exercising
Relaxing massage sessions are among the choices available to First Insurance employees when cashing in “wellness points.” Points are awarded for every 30 minutes of physical exercise at work or at home. Employees log their activity and their points are reflected on pay stubs.
Other prizes include promotional items such as jackets, golf products, office supplies and movie tickets.
Marie Weite, a technical specialist, redeemed her points for a massage. “It was wonderful,” she said.
Weite regularly attends company-sponsored “Balance Life” brown-bag sessions covering topics ranging from healthy eating and oral health to self-defense and caring for elderly parents.
Staffers also are encouraged to join company softball, tennis and volleyball teams.
“They are partaking in an activity that combines physical fitness, teamwork and social interaction between co-workers,” said human resources manager Derek Kanehira. “The same can be said about those who participate in our on-site Tae Bo and Zumba classes.”
The popular Zumba classes, which are offered twice a week after work, are open to employees and tenants (and their friends) of First Insurance Center at 1100 Ward Ave.
Two years ago, the company cafeteria began making brown rice the staple for all plate lunches and charging more for scoops of white rice.
“Although brown rice is more expensive, our intent was to encourage healthier choices,” Kanehira said. “After the first three months, there were three times more people eating brown rice.”
The company, which was named a Start! Fit-Friendly Company by the American Heart Association in 2010, is working with Good to Grill Cafe in the First Insurance building to offer discounts on healthful choices, such as a $1-off coupon for salads.
Another benefit is work-site ergonomic assessments for all employees. “Sometimes this means ordering a new chair, (or a) footstool, or moving the keyboard tray to accommodate the individual,” Kanehira said. “This is a proactive measure to help minimize workplace injuries.”
BOWERS + KUBOTA
Receiving honors and saving money
John Nellans won the “biggest loser” competition last year at Bowers + Kubota, shedding 39 pounds in three months.
Prize money came from equal shares contributed by participants. “This contest isn’t part of our wellness program, but I utilized the program as a guideline to stay on track,” said Nellans, a project engineer with the architectural and engineering firm. “It’s amazing what a difference you can make by just cutting out fast foods and eating healthy.”
Other employees have quit smoking, started to maintain healthier eating habits and begun participating in community service projects.
The wellness program at the Waipahu-based architectural-engineering company encourages its 118 employees statewide to log their healthful behaviors on a website, where points are calculated and prizes are awarded quarterly. Points are given for engaging in exercise, undergoing health screenings, quitting smoking and adopting better eating habits. Monthly newsletters share success stories and provide tips and recipes.
Employees also receive a $200 annual allowance to pay for exercise equipment, running shoes or gym membership.
As a result of these initiatives, Bowers + Kubota received a Start! Fit-Friendly Company award from the Heart Association last year. Better yet, Vice President Dexter Kubota said the company is saving 15 percent on its health care costs.
The firm is also addressing its workers’ mental wellness, he said. Bowers + Kubota won the 2011 Psychology Healthy Workplace award for large businesses from the Hawaii Psychological Association, honoring companies that make the mental and physical health and safety of employees a top priority.
“Our big focus this year will be on mental wellness. We hope to address stress management and anxiety,” Kubota said.
Community service is encouraged and employees can use up to eight hours of work time annually for that purpose. Regular food drives and participation in events such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and March of Dimes walk further create a sense of fellowship and shared purpose among workers.
“We want to make sure that everyone stays connected to the company. We are not in one office, but come together for company picnics, hikes and service projects,” he said.