News and Tribune

April 9, 2013

FITNESS SOURCE: Healthy employees, healthy business

Prioritizing employee health can be a boon for businesses

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — As CEO of Clark Memorial Hospital, Padgett is ultimately responsible for the well-being of thousands of patients annually. To make sure that the people he serves get the care they need, he needs to make sure his staff of doctors, nurses, specialists, administrators and assistants are up to the task. And that doesn’t just mean making sure they have the best tools and training to do the job. In the health care business, wellness has a trickle-down effect. Clark Memorial puts a priority on the health of its staff, promoting both physical and emotional well-being.

Clark Memorial’s wellness center is open to its employees at a discounted rate, which can become free with a certain level of participation. The center includes personal trainers, nutritional education, chronic disease management and even free Zumba. 

“All of those things together enable us to have more energy, more focus more positive attitude in everything that we do, both here at work and at home,” says Padgett. 

In a hospital setting, workplace wellness seems to be a no-brainer of a priority. After all, healthy employees are also more resistant to contracting disease, and who’s more exposed to disease than an ER nurse? But anyplace work is being done, workplace wellness should be a priority, says Chuck Gillespie, the executive director of the Indiana Wellness Council. 

“If you think about it, a healthier employee is a safer employee, especially if you’re in a manufacturing environment,” Gillespie says. “Chances are, if that person is fitter, their chances of injury become substantially less. At the same time, if they do injure themselves, because they are fitter, their chances of returning from the injury is quicker and shorter.” 

And that’s just the beginning. 

“The ultimate benefit for an employer is to reduce turnover and increase team member satisfaction and team member engagement,” Padgett says. “A more engaged work force is really more of a productive work force, which provides for better quality and better service. So anytime you can lower turnover, that also lowers your costs because you’re not hiring and training new folks. It just keeps a more stable work force to provide a better product.”

And employers are trying some pretty unusual things to engage employees. Gillespie points to Ball State University’s version of “Flat Stanley,” in which its workers were encouraged to have their pictures taken with a laminated version of the school’s mascot, Charlie the Cardinal, while out doing fitness-related activities. Other employers have encouraged activity by promising trips to exotic locations in exchange for meticulous records of steps walked each day. Just 2.2 million steps were required over the course of a year to become eligible for a drawing for a company-funded trip to Hawaii at one Indiana business recently, Gillespie says. 

“I thought that was a very unique and fun program that a lot of people got very excited about, and it really kind of took off a lot more,” Gillespie says. 

But gimmicks like those aren’t the silver bullet of workplace wellness, says Mike Campbell, the chief wellness officer with Neace Lukens. Campbell eschews referring to a business’s prioritization of wellness as a “program.” Instead, the focus needs to be ingrained in a company’s culture, and that means buy-in from the boss on down. 

“The most important aspect of a well culture begins at the top with the CEO, president, owner [or] chairman committed personally to a life of holistic wellness role modeling, leading and personally teaching,” Campbell says. 

Perhaps the most visible example of that approach can be found at Jeffersonville City Hall, where Mike Moore is championing fitness not just among the city’s employees, but throughout the community by offering free fitness classes at RiverStage during the warmer months through the Anchors Aweigh program. 

For Moore, fitness is important on a deeply personal level. In 2006, Moore was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, and doctors didn’t give him much of a chance of recovery. Instead of taking his doctors’ advice and telling his children that dad wouldn’t be around much longer, Moore battled the cancer through a regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and exercise. 

“It was a long battle, but it was worthwhile and it’s made me realize how valuable life is and how important the little things are in life,” Moore says. 

In addition to Anchors Aweigh and the Mayor’s Fitness Challenge, Moore has formed a fitness council comprised of members of the community, with members ranging from seniors to younger members, with the goal of promoting fitness awareness in Jeffersonville. 

“I think when people see the spokesperson for the city is taking being fit pretty serious, it’s a good example to set for the entire city,” Moore says. 

Not all employers have the resources that large organizations like the city of Jeffersonville or Clark Memorial Hospital wield. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do things to help promote wellness among their employees, Padgett says. Padgett suggests that employers get in touch with local organizations like the YMCA and health care providers to identify low-cost options for employees like discounted gym memberships. 

Regardless of the scope of a workplace wellness initiative, it will fail if the details of the program aren’t well-planned and communicated, says Gillespie. 

“You can have the greatest wellness program in the world, but if you’re not communicating it, then it’s not really going to get a fair shake,” says Gillespie. 

Employers who want to use the wellness angle as a means to an end can expect to reap benefits if implemented correctly. But business benefits shouldn’t be the only thing they’re thinking about. 

“Realize the number-one reason for beginning this journey is, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” Campbell says. “Do not become fixated on ROI. Do not look at a wellness vendor as your strategy who is accountable for success. The employer must realize they ... are responsible for success through creating a culture of holistic wellness.” 

 

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Southern Indiana Fitness Source, available at newsstands in fitness-related businesses throughout Clark and Floyd counties.