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Planning for a Healthy Workforce

by Jen Clark

Plastics Business

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TASUS "Walks with a Purpose" encourage employees to participate in events that support charities.


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TASUS "Walks with a Purpose" encourage employees to participate in events that support charities.


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The wellness initiative at DeKALB also involves a variety of activities to keep employees engaged.

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Implementing a "culture of health" in the workplace can seem like a daunting task, especially as management works to make ends meet in a challenging economy. But, the benefits of a successful program can include higher productivity and morale, lower health care costs and improved health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research has shown that coordinating occupational safety with a health promotion may increase program participation and effectiveness. A pair of MAPP-member companies has done just that, and the benefits have gone far beyond lower health care costs.

DeKALB Molded Plastics rewards employees for good health

DeKALB Molded Plastics, Butler, IN, started its wellness program in 2010, but has fine-tuned it over the years. Just this year, the company saw the smallest increase in its health care renewal to date, which was a five-percent increase in premiums. "Can we contribute that conclusively to our wellness initiative? No," said Rick Walters, president, "but we certainly think that has helped head us in the right direction." Whatís more, 60.5 percent of employees have been rated healthy when looking solely at DeKALBís Health Risk Assessment (HRA) results in regards to the Metabolic Risk Reduction Program. In the last year alone, the number of employees with ideal blood pressure is up to 23.7 percent from 14.3 percent; and 96 percent of the employees are in the ideal range for low risk of diabetes.

The wellness program began as a completely voluntary activity that provided employees with a discount on their insurance, Walters said. The HRAs helped determine where an employee stood in a variety of areas, including tobacco use, blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body mass index. Employees also were offered smoking cessation classes free of charge. Other supportive resources were available, such as online programs to target and achieve health and wellness goals, discounts on wellness products and services and a comprehensive library of health and wellness articles. As the program evolved, Walters said employees could earn points based on the variety of activities they were involved in, resulting in a $100 to $400 payback on an annual basis. Now, the company uses a Metabolic Risk Reduction Program. Nonsmokers with two or fewer of the outlined metabolic risk factors can get a discounted premium – about five percent – for health insurance. The risk factors include a large waistline, high triglyceride levels, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar.

The wellness initiative at DeKALB also involves a variety of activities to keep employees engaged. The companyís wellness committee meets regularly to plan a monthly, company-wide activity. "This could be anything from providing information about a key area, such as heart health or diabetes, to engaging all of the employees in an initiative like the Fitness 500, Wellness Fitness Bingo or an organized walk," Walters said. The company brings in an on-site massage therapist once a week and provides access to a wellness coach – a registered nurse – once a month to any employee wanting one-on-one help to set and meet a health-related goal.

In addition to the health program, DeKALB also became a smoke-free campus two years ago. "Smoking had long been recognized as a health concern and as having an impact on our health care costs," Walters explained. "We had spent many hours in employee meetings discussing our health care costs – expenses in which we all share." He said the company decided to move slowly and chose an effective date of July 2012. "While we wanted to support the health and wellness of our employees, our purpose was to continue to attack our health care premium cost increases. We stressed to (employees) that we would offer smoking cessation tools if they desired to use them. A few did." Once the day arrived, it quietly became policy. "There were no surprises and our employees simply determined how they were going to adjust to the change," he said. "Overall, this has been a win. Even with challenges, we look to how our health care renewal premium has dropped and view this as a contributing factor."

TASUS Corporation commits to healthy lifestyles

TASUS Corporation, Bloomington, IN, always has promoted wellness, but about five years ago the company got more serious about it. Implementing a wellness committee was the first step, said Mark Anderson, TPS and benefits director. "We felt it was our duty to our employees," he said of starting the program. "In our industry, employees often spend as much time at work as they do at their homes, and we felt it was our obligation to help them enjoy healthier lifestyles. We care about them and their families and want them to be healthy and happy."

Anderson said the key to TASUSís success has been its willingness to get creative. "We were pleasantly surprised that it didnít cost a lot of money to promote wellness in the workplace," he said. "Commitment and creativity are the two most important resources we have at our disposal." Before adding a wellness committee, Anderson tried to spearhead wellness activities on his own or through the companyís human resources department. Often, though, efforts would dwindle as work ramped up. "Things would go well for a while, but we couldnít sustain the good things we were doing," he said, adding that this time around it was important for management to take part as well.

"For the first 15 years I worked for the company, I talked a good game and encouraged employees to get healthy, but my example didnít match my words," Anderson said. "About three years ago, I made a commitment to health and lost 100 pounds, partly because I wanted to be a better role model for employees. I have been amazed at how much that has helped us promote wellness at our company. The program has been well-received by employees and steadily is growing."

The program also promotes community involvement, he said. A program called TASUS Walks with a Purpose gets employees to take part in 5k and similar walks that raise money for local charities or organizations. "Part of wellness is getting out and moving," Anderson said, "but part of wellness also is learning to get outside of oneself and help others. These walks help out in both of these areas."

Additionally, TASUS does a Virtual Walk Around the World, where employee exercise logs are converted into walking miles. The progress then is plotted on a world map, Anderson said. "We now have surpassed 25,000 miles and are on our second trip around the planet." Other activities have included on-site health screenings and nutrition counseling, as well as cardio kickboxing, yoga, Zumba and boot camp-style classes. "We tried a lot of different things," Anderson said. "People often were surprised about what they ended up liking." During the health screenings, employees have their cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and other vital statistics measured. "The employee gets a trend of their wellness checks for the last six years, so they can see if their health is moving in the right direction," he said.

Healthy eating is another component of the wellness program. "We worked with our vending company to add more healthy options and put a specially designed green sticker on all healthy items in our vending machines," Anderson explained. "When an employee purchases a healthy vending item, they take the green sticker, affix it to a contest card and put it in our contest box."

Anderson said employees arenít paid for their healthy activities, but they do receive small prizes. "Once a month, we draw from among the vending contest cards for various prizes," he said. "Employees who participate in walks receive shirts, and we do other periodic prize drawings. All of our employees who walked at least 100 miles during the Walk Around the World challenge received a MOVband fitness tracker watch made by MOVband," he said. "We plan to use them for future challenges, in which employeesí exercise automatically will be uploaded and tracked online."

While reducing the trend of rising medical costs wasnít the companyís primary goal for starting the wellness program, Anderson said the company was concerned about it. "We felt one of the best ways to address the issue was to lessen our demand for it," he said. "Studies show that somewhere between 40-75 percent of medical problems are preventable. We were hopeful that if we were able to address at least a part of those preventable issues, it also might help us address those rising costs."

Anderson said prior to starting the program, the companyís insurance claims were running about 110 percent of expected, but that has dropped to between 60 and 70 percent. "I donít know how much of that can be directly attributed to our wellness efforts, but I think at least part of it is due to the healthier lifestyles many of our employees have adopted," he said.