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Cover Story | All is well: When employers aid their workers in health, fitness everybody wins

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Some businesses and organizations like the Chelan County Public Utility District offer exercise at their workplace. From left, Chelan County PUD employees Rich Dinius, senior project planner/scheduler; Lorna Klemanski, Human Resources, Labor & Safety managing director; Daniel Scott, senior electrical engineer, stretch out during their daily morning exercises in the lobby of the downtown office's auditorium on Dec. 15.

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Growing a healthier, happier community

Growing a healthier, happier community

WENATCHEE — The fitness industry itself, both locally and nationwide, is putting on some muscle.

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Fitness industry shows some muscle

Fitness by the numbers in 2016:

7,460 Number of fitness and aerobics instructors in Washington State

120    Number of fitness and aerobics instructors in Chelan and Douglas counties

2.43   Number of fitness and aerobics instructors per 1,000 residents in Washington State

2.82   Number of fitness and aerobics instructors per 1,000 residents in Chelan and Douglas counties$47,600 Average wage of fitness and aerobics instructors in Washington State

$42,940 Average wage of fitness and aerobics instructors in Chelan and Douglas counties

36,540 Number of health clubs in the U.S.

57.3 million  Number of health and fitness club members in 2016 in the U.S.

3.6 Growth in percent of the number of club members over 2015 in the U.S.

19.3   Percent of all U.S. citizens with health and fitness club memberships

$27.6 billion Revenue generated by U.S. health clubs

7.2    Growth in percent of U.S. health club revenues over 2015

106   Average number of times a member visited their club in 2016

26.3  Growth in percent of health club memberships between 2009 and 2016

— Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association

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Editor’s Note | Healthier, happier and prosperous

Those New Year's resolutions to lose weight, get fit, eat healthy and generally live a better lifestyle are often the first to fall by the wayside.

Employers step up to help workers stay fit

K.C. Mehaffey, Business World writer

WENATCHEE — Need a challenge to lose weight? How about a free pedometer, and the inspiration to use it? Or perhaps a 15-minute stretch before work is more to your liking.

Some people — especially people who work for large companies and government agencies — are getting these perks at work. Employers who offer them know that a healthy worker is also a productive worker. And the cost of a health and fitness program might just come back to the company in the form of less sick leave and a happier workforce.

In the Wenatchee area, some health and fitness programs are as simple as discounting a gym membership at one of the valley’s workout centers.

Wenatchee’s YMCA has eight corporate accounts, and a few more that are set up as payroll deductions, but with no discounts because they don’t have at least eight people participating, says Selina Longoria, YMCA’s membership services and corporate specialist.

She said employees who participate get $4 off the Y’s $45 monthly membership fee. More than 300 members at the YMCA are part of a corporate account, she said, and they’re looking to expand the corporate program by offering businesses a fitness program or morning yoga practice for employees at the workplace.

Jeff Adamson, spokesman at the state Department of Transportation’s regional office in Wenatchee, said his agency has placed a big emphasis on health.

In warmer weather, every Wednesday, the regional administrator leads employees on a walk. And if there’s a local fundraiser involving a walk or a run, they can use their computers at work to help promote it.

There are also financial incentives, like getting the first $125 for your health insurance deductible paid for by getting points for things like walking a certain number of steps. And, he added, “You get a chance every month to win a prize,” by participating in challenges.

I’m impressed with the effort, and the priority the state has taken. And it’s got the full backing of the management here at the regional level,” he said, adding, “I think it has a positive influence on the employees, even if they’re not participating at a high level. They’re a happier bunch of people because there’s a feeling that, ‘Yeah, they really do care about me.’”

In the business world, it’s not just employers trying to promote fitness, however. Recognizing the difficulties that extreme heat and cold in North Central Washington pose on outside exercise, the Wenatchee Valley Mall opens early every day so people can walk.

With some costs offset by the lawn care company Vita Green, in Wenatchee, the East Wenatchee mall not only opens its doors, but people who sign up get a free pedometer, and a $10 gift card after walking 70 miles. “People walk regularly — every day,” said the mall’s marketing director, Stephannie Kuntz.

At Chelan County PUD, Dave Parkhill said part of the wellness he sees going on when he leads daily stretching exercises at their headquarters office is the fellowship between employees as they talk about how their kids are doing, or chat about last night’s Seahawk’s game or a television show they watched.

Parkhill, the PUD’s safety training program manager, said the 7:45 a.m. stretch is voluntary. The PUD started doing it in 2004, after learning about it at a safety conference. “It’s a good way to get started for the day,” he said, adding that employees at Rock Island and Rocky Reach dams host their own 8-minute stretching routine.

The PUD’s biggest focus on health is an annual health fair in October, where employees can get everything from flu shots and blood pressure checks to glucose, cholesterol, prostate cancer and osteoporosis screenings.

We know that some of our employees don’t go to the doctor regularly,” said Lorna Klemanski, the PUD”s managing director of human resources, labor and safety.

This year, 484 employees — or about 60 percent of their workforce — participated, she said.

Klemanski said they aren’t tracking how much of a difference the annual screenings are making in terms of a cost savings to the company’s self-insurance health plan. But employees have shared with her that if they hadn’t caught a pending condition early, their treatment would have been much more difficult, and more expensive.

Regardless of the cost, Klemanski added,“Healthy employees are just more productive in general.”

Some companies — especially smaller ones — may wonder whether the cost of a health and wellness program really pays off.

In 2015, the nonprofit research organization, RAND Corporation found that workplace health and wellness programs are becoming a common employee benefit, with about four-fifths of all U.S. employers with more than 1,000 employees offering programs to encourage healthy lifestyles and support employees with chronic conditions.

Common benefits include biometric screenings for employees, and sometimes their dependents, as well as interventions to address health risks and offerings to promote healthy lifestyles.

They study found that while wellness programs do reduce health risks — such as tobacco use or obesity — the programs did not lower the costs. In addition, incentives to participate in employer-sponsored wellness programs provided only modest improvements in participation.

While improving employee health certainly has additional benefits, these numbers suggest that employers will find it difficult to achieve financial gains from saved health care costs alone from lifestyle management,” the study concluded.

But local employers say it’s not about financial gain.

Confluence Health — the region’s largest health care provider with two hospitals and more than 420 physicians and advanced practitioners — is expanding its health and wellness program, focusing not just on physical health but “whole person care.”

Our ultimate goal is to lay good health as a foundation, at home, at work, and while caring for patients. But we are watching the financials, and hoping there are reduced costs,” said JoEllen Colson, Confluence Health’s vice president of human resources.

She said their health insurance and wellness plan is also big component of their total rewards package, which helps to recruit and retain top talent in the health care field.

The health care organization already offers its employees a gym discount of $25 a month, quarterly challenges and financial incentives to participate in wellness programs.

Now, it’s launching a new “prime plan,” to employees which includes a visit to the doctor to outline their health risks, health coaching, an individualized tracking system, and cash incentives to stay current on regularly-scheduled screenings, like colonoscopies and mammograms.

Colson said there are no copays for visits to doctors within the insurance network, to remove any financial barriers to participating.

Kristen Hankins, Confluence Health’s compensation and benefits manager, said early detection is a key to improving someone’s health. “Truly, the whole vision of our wellness program was to get our employees engaged in the ownership and betterment of their health,” she said.

To inspire that engagement, Hankins said, they’ve done some simple things, like giving away free apples, or using employees’ photos in their benefits booklet. “It’s a continual reminder of the beauty we live in, and how beneficial it is to get out and enjoy that.”

In addition to programs for physical health, Confluence Health is promoting emotional health by partnering with other local agencies to offer a variety of educational offerings on topics such as stress and depression. They also provide employees with four free visits to counselors.

Colson said the reasons for offering and expanding its wellness program are many: “We want to improve our employees’ health and wellness; we want to lower health care costs; we want to increase engagement; and most important, we want to promote a positive culture of health and wellness amongst the employees at Confluence Health.”

 

Healthy employees are happier employees, say fitness advocates

By Mike Irwin, Business World writer

Take note, business owners and managers: Keeping your employees healthy through workplace wellness programs and initiatives can really pay off. Here’s why:

  • Wellness programs can increase employee productivity.
  • Exercise and good nutrition by employees can help lower employer health care costs.
  • Healthy employees miss fewer days of work.
  • Illnesses and injuries can drop dramatically when employees stay healthy.

Employees who are strong and fit report lower stress levels, increased well-being, better self-image, improved self-esteem, more stamina and a boost in job satisfaction, say experts with several national worker-fitness groups.

One such group, the National Association for Health and Fitness, encourages businesses to support worker fitness by participating in the Global Employee Health & Fitness Month, an annual observance each May to promote a healthy lifestyle to employers and employees.

Sign up is free at healthandfitnessmonth.org/. For more info, call (518) 456-1058.

You can also exercise the brain

Encouraging employees to step away from their workstations and move — really get the blood pumping — also helps improve mental and cognitive health, which means better performance on the job. Exercise promotes brain cell growth, improves memory, boosts learning abilities and sharpens concentration.

In addition, exercise promotes feelings of well-being — yes, happiness — through boosting serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Believe it or not, exercise can also have positive effects on mild to moderate cases of depression and anxiety.

How to help employees get healthy

OK, you’ve signed up for Employee Health & Fitness Month (coming in May), but now what? Experts advise that employers create a “culture of wellness” in the workplace to encourage healthy habits, help employees feel valued and offer new on-site opportunities for improving health.

In an article earlier this year, Forbes.com suggested that bosses can help employees get healthier by:

  • Providing fitness trackers: Consider investing in devices and apps which help employees become more mindful of their physical activity.
  • Encouraging movement: Get employees out of their chairs and moving. Install standing desks, insist on regular breaks, run a 10-minute stretching program, encourage employees to eat lunch away from their desks.
  • Starting health clubs at work: Walking or biking clubs, yoga or tai chi classes, mindfulness groups or after-hours softball and basketball teams can all add to a workforce’s mental and physical health.
  • Partnering with local gyms: Many companies encourage employee health by supporting discounts for local gym memberships. Some companies base the discount on the number of employees enrolled in gym programs — the more employees enrolled, the higher the discount.
  • Offering healthy snacks: Dump machines selling corn chips and candy bars. Instead, outfit the break room with a healthy-snack machine that sells packages of nuts, dried fruit, whole wheat crackers and hummus and other wholesome eats. Think, too, of supplementing soda machines by offering juices, non-sugar drinks and, of course, water.

— Sources: National Association for Health & Fitness and Forbes.com.