Wellness in the Workplace
Corporate Wellnes Programs Inspire Employees, Lower Healthcare Costs
By Kate Kellogg
Although Tiffany Mackey, owner of Café Du Jour on West Washington had been working out at the Washtenaw Recreation Center, the extra pounds weren’t coming off. One of her regular customers, Heather Dupuis, offered some extra help. Dupuis owns Vie: Fitness & Spa just around the corner on Ashley Street. Now Mackey goes straight from work to Vie, where, coached by a personal trainer, she practices yoga, Pilates, and other conditioning moves. Not only is she losing weight and gaining strength in her back, she also is enjoying the personal challenge.
“It feels good,” she says. “My trainer monitors my progress and pushes me to the next level. I’m inspired now.” Since the facility is so close by she easily makes the sessions a part of her work day.
Among the University of Michigan’s MFit programs is a Tobacco Consultation Service that helps people kick their nicotine addictions. Participant Lisa S. wrote the following to program leaders: “I failed the first time. It was hard watching friends and relatives who smoke. But when I re-enrolled the second time, I was fueled and determined....Thank you for helping me to break a habit that was out to kill me.”
Workers throughout the Ann Arbor area are discovering creative ways to schedule healthy activities into their busy days and evenings, often with help from their employers. The city and outlying communities are rich in resources for improving general wellness. Those who don’t take advantage of those opportunities pay the price sooner or later in chronic ailments associated with sedentary lifestyles and bad habits. Employers pay for lack of interest in employee wellness through the soaring cost of healthcare benefits, absenteeism, and lowered productivity.
Fifty-five percent of Michigan adults are physically inactive, according to a 2002 study, “The Economic Cost of Physical Inactivity in Michigan,” by the Michigan Fitness Foundation. (To be considered physically active, adults must engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times per week.) In 2002, our physical inactivity cost nearly $8.9 billion. These costs were born by employers through health insurance premiums and lost productivity; by the state through Medicaid payments; and by residents through higher taxes and increased costs of goods. “If one in 20 sedentary adults become physically active, a cost avoidance of approximately $575 million per year over the next four years can be realized,” says the study. “This equates to jobs for over 15,400 new employees.”
In past issues, we have looked at business strategies for containing health care costs. Employee cost sharing, healthcare savings accounts, and wise choices in health plan selections are options of one kind. This issue looks at what is clearly the most effective long-term strategy: prevention. Under that umbrella are employee health promotion programs, use of the community’s many wellness resources, motivational and incentive activities, and periodic employee health screenings and assessments. This approach not only lowers health care costs but makes for a more vigorous, productive workforce. And employee testimonials reveal that fitness awareness and activities are improving individual lives as well as the bottom line.
The Ann Arbor area is fortunate to have a number of community resources at hand to help businesses develop health promotion plans. A growing number of private fitness clubs in the area take an individualized, rather than assembly line approach to fitness with customized programs, personal trainers, and nutritional counseling. Here’s a summary of some of those resources plus strategies for achieving employee wellness in our readership area.
This health promotion division of the U-M Health System is known for the MFit healthy dining logo that appears next to healthy choices in area restaurants and grocery stores. But that’s just one small example of the wellness services MFit provides for the university and community. The division’s Healthy Workforce Initiative has won top state and county awards for commitment to the well-being of Health System employees and sustained participation. The current fiscal year, ending June 30, has accumulated 5,181 program participants. Besides the Tobacco Consultation Service, the initiative includes exercise and relaxation classes, weight-loss and nutrition incentive programs, two annual Energy Expos, and the Activity for Life Charity Challenge. The last is an eight-week event that brought together 156 departmental teams that accumulated nearly 3.5 million exercise minutes and generated more than $10,000 for charity.
MFit launched the Healthy Workforce Initiative, in part, as an example to the community “that we take care of our own,” says Lisa Schneider, who manages the MFit employee wellness programs. By demonstrating that wellness is a priority across the board for the U-M Health System, the program serves as a model that other organizations could follow on a smaller scale.
The exercise and relaxation classes are offered at various sites on the U-M campuses at lunchtime, early morning and early evening. An employee could take a stretch-and-tone class at 7 a.m., then work off the frustrations of the workday at an evening aerobics class. Prices are about half what typical fitness clubs charge, says Schneider. “We encourage co-workers to sign up together because having an exercise buddy can be motivating,” she says. “When your friend says ‘let’s get going,’ you’re less inclined to find excuses to skip a class.”
One participant in the MFit Weight Management program admitted, “I was really stuck when this program started. My body was changing and seemed headed for the slow lane (wide load too)! I needed help to turn things around---you (we) did it!” The Energy Expo is MFit’s health fair, held winter and summer of each year to expose faculty and staff en masse to health information and resources. Held in the courtyard of the Main Hospital, the summer expo gathers national wellness experts with local dieticians, exercise physiologists, fitness vendors, and other medical professionals in a carnival atmosphere. Last year’s summer fair offered healthy food, chair massages, and a rock climbing wall, along with the wildly popular charity dunk tank. For a mere dollar, employees get to slam a ball at whomever (usually a brave administrator) volunteers to sit above the tank.
Of course, few organizations other than major hospitals have the resources to put together such an event on their own. But MFit’s Corporate Wellness arm has for 15 years been helping companies develop health promotion programs tailored to the health needs of their employees. For competitive fees, MFit offers a full menu of wellness services including on-site immunizations, fitness testing, exercise classes, behavior change programs, and occupational services. All services are provided by MFit health professionals. If at least 50 people participate, MFit can do health risk appraisals on the workforce. These assessments are confidential; employees receive personal booklets explaining their health risks while the employer receives a report with aggregate information on employees’ risks as a group.
Organizations can pick and choose which health promotion services they want, from flu immunizations to a full-fledged health fair. Educational seminars can be presented as “brown bag” discussions on the topic of the employer’s choice. “We are happy to design proposals for companies concerned about reducing health care costs,” says Schneider. “We can help keep healthy populations healthy and bring those in the middle of the risk category down to the healthy level.” For more information on MFit’s Corporate Wellness services, call (734) 975-4463, extension 257 or visit www.med.umich.edu/mfit/programs/corporatewellness.
Some of MFit’s efforts to raise awareness among U-M managers are applicable to organizations of all sizes. For example, the Healthy Workforce Initiative is designing a tool kit for managers. It will include items such as planning a healthy meeting with healthy snacks, rather than the ubiquitous donut box. “Why not try a walking meeting?” says Schneider. “People don’t think about all the little things we can do to incorporate wellness into our day-to-day operations.”
Chelsea Community Hospital
Chelsea Community Hospital boasts one of the most extensive community wellness efforts in the region. Like MFit, it offers worksite wellness programs that include health screenings, health risk appraisals, and Lunch & Learn presentations. These are available to companies within a 60-minute driving radius of the hospital. Before embarking on any employee wellness effort, hospital staff meet with the employer to determine the company’s goals, problems, and age range of employees. “We then target a program to the company’s specific needs,” says Joanne Grosh, director of Business and Community Health Services. “If absenteeism is a problem, we monitor it over the course of the program. We keep records of all health measures and report outcomes.” Understanding that each worksite is unique, the Chelsea program will work with second and third shifts, she adds. “We’ll give corporate wellness presentations at 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. if necessary.”
Business Health Services encourages companies to form a wellness committee and to assign responsibility for program coordination to one person. Ideally, the company should write “coordinate employee wellness program” into one of its job descriptions, Grosh says. “Otherwise that job just goes to the bottom of someone’s to-do list.” The business services staff combines wellness research with their own experience in what does and doesn’t work. Like U-M, the hospital has a wellness program for its own employees. Called Lifestyle Initiative for Employees (LIFE), the program has a strong incentive component---employees actually receive cash for staying healthy. Following an initial one-on-one health screening with a nurse, employees sign a contract under which they agree to practice certain healthy activities. Those include not smoking, wearing bike helmets and seat belts, exercising at least three times a week and not abusing drugs or alcohol. A year later, they return for another annual screening and review the contract. Depending on points earned for various activities, and adherence to test recommendations for their age groups (such as mammograms), employees can earn up to $100.
“If a person earns $25 for bringing down her blood pressure or keeping it normal, she may shoot for $50 or $100 at the next physical,” says Grosh. Of course it’s not just the money. Internal motivation is that element of employee wellness that is beyond employers’ control. Thus, employers should focus on people who are already involved as well as those you want to bring into the program, says Grosh. “Once people relapse back into bad eating habits and not exercising, it’s difficult to bring them back.”
One of the hospital’s newest outreach services for businesses is the series HealthWISE (Wellness Intervention Strategies for Employers). In cooperation with the Dexter Area Chamber of Commerce, Chelsea Hospital presents business health lectures and tips on strategies for keeping health care costs down and employees healthier. The lectures cover topics such as “The Cost of Pain to Employers” and “Healthcare Savings Accounts.” Although the lecture topics are designed for business leaders in the Dexter area, any employer may attend. For registration and a schedule of upcoming lectures call the Dexter Chamber of Commerce (734) 426-0887. For more information on the hospital’s worksite programs, call Terri Perkins, program coordinator for Business Health Services at (734) 475-4140.
One Company’s Success Story
The Detroit-based law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone has 350 attorneys plus paralegals. When just one of those professionals becomes ill or disabled, the firm can lose up to 30 billable hours per week. That loss of productivity and revenue alone is a big incentive for companies in service industries to keep their employees healthy.
Reeling from the shock of double-digit increases in the price of health care benefits, Miller Canfield two years ago embarked on a comprehensive wellness program. Results were so impressive that the firm received the 2004 Healthy Workplace Platinum award from the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness. Although the firm has always encouraged physical activity---each office has sent running teams to regional races---Miller Canfield realized it needed to make a more concerted push to lower health care costs and improve the well-being of employees.
“Building a healthy workforce has become part of our corporate culture with the goal of making a positive impact on people’s lives as well as saving money,” says William Parsons, director of administrative and human resources. About 50 percent of health care costs are preventable, he says.
With the help of a Michigan-based consulting firm, Miller Canfield developed the wellness program in which 80 percent of its employees now participate. The law firm has seen overall reductions in each of the five risk categories---poor fitness, obesity, blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and smoking---by an average of 30 percent. Firm-wide, the total risk reduction is 68 percent, says Parsons. Only 31 percent of Miller Canfield’s employees are overweight, compared to 61 percent for Michigan residents. Since the program began, the percentage of Ann Arbor employees who had high cholesterol dropped form 41 to 23 percent. How did Miller Canfield accomplish these enviable results? Parsons describes some methods that worked for them:
• Market your program. CEO Thomas Linn drafted a discussion on the wellness program and sent it to all office heads. All supported his commitment to put dollars into the prevention side of health care and rallied their employees to participate.
• Get organized. Miller Canfield set up a firm-wide committee and designated one to three people in each office to coordinate the program for their group.
• Provide health screenings for all employees but make them voluntary and confidential. The consultant brought in nurses to check heart health, cholesterol, and body mass index among other measures to provide data for tracking progress. The use of an outside consultant ensures that individual data will remain private.
• Offer incentives. For example, one office planned a “mystery walk” for employees that ended at a healthy lunch spot. Another set up a Yoga Room so that employees could practice yoga on site. Miller Canfield also offers employees $100 toward renewal of health club memberships or toward purchase of a piece of home exercise equipment. In addition, each office has a point system that tracks employees’ exercise hours. Audrey Gray, the wellness coordinator for the Ann Arbor office, makes up cards on which employees check off each half hour of exercise. “This has really brought people on board,” she says. “They get quite excited when they’ve earned enough points to win a T-shirt or shorts.”
• Report and celebrate success. With employees’ permission, publicize their success stories---such the Miller Canfield employee who lost 70 pounds.
It’s true that a health promotion program of this level entails some financial as well as administrative commitment. But as Dee Edington, U-M professor of kinesiology and worksite wellness guru, has said, “The money we put into health promotion will come back, maybe up to six times.” Medical, pharmaceutical, and production costs go down any time the health status of a workforce moves from high-risk to low-risk, he has found.
Miller Canfield is convinced that commitment to early detection, prevention, and implementation of a health promotion program is the only sure way to control health care costs. The only other alternatives? “Pay more or lose coverage,” says Parsons.
Other Fitness Providers
Outdoor “boot camps,” a la carte services, and individualized training distinguish Vie: Fitness & Spa, Ann Arbor’s first downtown fitness studio, which opened last July. The upscale facility, located above the Firefly Club at 209 South Ashley, is a small (1,000 square feet), full-service fitness center and spa that promotes its “discreet, private environment.” Vie is the antithesis of a big noisy gym. “You don’t come here to work out to blaring music under florescent lights,” says Megan Powell, operations manager. The studio caters to downtown business people who prefer to exercise in an intimate setting.
Unlike conventional gyms, Vie requires no membership or initiation fee. It offers classes such as spinning (group workouts on stationary bikes), yoga, Pilates (strengthening exercises with a focus on body core), and hip-hop on a drop-in basis. Packages range from $96 for eight classes to $240 for 24. Personal trainers, whose services are also are available in packages, supervise clients in the use of top-of-the-line exercise equipment.
Spinning is probably Vie’s most challenging and popular cardio workout. “It looks like sheer hell but I love it,” says Carey Jernigan, director of business development for re:group Incorporated and a Vie regular. “Besides being a great aerobic workout, the rhythm and music almost puts you into a Zen state and relieves stress.”
Vie now offers an off-site Outdoor Energy program that includes mountain biking, running, and kayaking classes. “Boot Camp,” an intense morning workout, takes groups of about ten die-hards through sessions of jogging, stair-running, and strength conditioning at the Nichols Arboretum. That’s three days a week at 6:15 a.m. “Our goal is to get downtown workers out of their offices and moving through Vie’s classes and personal trainer services,” says owner and facilitator Heather Dupuis. The holder of a degree in kinesiology from the University of British Columbia, Dupuis chose the Ashley Street location for its proximity to downtown businesses. “People can work out, shower here, and walk back to work on their lunch hour. And many come in for yoga classes before work.”
On the south side of town, the One on One Athletic Club at 2875 Boardwalk Drive offers its own version of a boot camp, the full range of yoga, Pilates, and exercise classes, as well as personalized circuit training. One-on-One also specializes in organizing free fitness fairs for businesses of all sizes. One-on-One can set up a fair---complete with nurse, nutritionist, cholesterol and blood pressure monitoring equipment, and educational materials---in a lobby or any other part of a workplace with adequate space.
“We can accommodate a fairly sizeable crowd over a four-hour period or take care of companies with as few as ten employees in less than two hours,” says Mark Wiley, owner of One-on-One. Of course, he is pleased if the fairs result in new memberships but the goal is to apprise people of their health risks and encourage them to take action of any kind.
“If we can motivate five to ten percent of an organization to exercise, or even get them interested, we feel we’ve made a positive impact,” says Wiley. “We find too many people who think they are getting adequate exercise mowing the lawn or bowling rather than getting the recommended half-hour of vigorous exercise five days a week.” For more information on Vie, visit www.viefit.com. One-on-One’s web site is http://1on1club.com.
Don’t forget the Ann Arbor YMCA that recently opened an extraordinary new facility on West Washington Street. Besides some 70 reasonably-priced flexibility, exercise, dance, and martial arts classes, it offers swimming, indoor running, and a fitness center equipped with new cardio and strength-conditioning equipment. Many downtown workers manage to fit in a 30-minute full-body workout in time to finish up with a shower during the lunch hour.
Corporate discounts for memberships are “on the horizon” but not yet available, says Mike Fitzsimmons, vice president for operations. “We will explore that possibility once all operations are running smoothly in the new facility,” he says. “The county, city, and Chamber of Commerce have expressed interest in business memberships.” For those who work on the Ypsilanti side of the area, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital offers classes and workshops on physical and mental wellness throughout the week. For class descriptions, times, prices, and locations, go to St. Joe’s web site at www.sjmercyhealth.org and click on Classes and Events. Then click on any day of any month’s calendar. In a single sample day---May 17---classes and seminars include Healthy Hearts Yoga, Exercise and Your Heart, Anger Management for Adolescents, and the Dawn Farm Series on Addiction and Recovery.