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Roundtable discussion

Wellness focus can boost morale, productivity

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A healthy worker is a happy and more productive worker. At least, that’s the mantra some local companies are adhering to as they look to promote healthy habits among their employees.

Feeling stressed? Enjoy a 15-minute massage at the office. Going for a walk? Earn gift certificates by logging a certain number of miles.

“We give them incentives to do activities … that increase their wellness,” said Marci Fredericksen, who runs the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Fitness Focus program. “It’s to provoke them -- if they haven’t already -- into living a healthier lifestyle.”

Fredericksen was among the local executives and health care experts who discussed the effectiveness, opportunities and challenges in implementing company wellness programs during a roundtable at the Daily Transcript office earlier this week.

Various participants listed some of the programs and activities they’ve made available to their employees: on-site yoga or aerobics, healthier food choices, health coaches, biometric screening, pedometers, ping-pong tournaments, weight loss competitions -- the list goes on.

The Airport Authority is even building a gym, slated for completion in February.

Most companies embracing the “culture of health” idea say that the benefits are numerous. Employees are happier, less stressed, more productive and less prone to sickness -- or taking sick days.

Some are seeing financial benefits as well, sometimes in the form of reduced workers’ compensation costs.

Scripps Health has seen employees’ health risk profiles improve and saw medical costs decrease by 8.6 percent per employee for the first time this year, said Vic Buzachero, Scripps Health senior vice president.

“That high-risk population is shrinking, and that’s where our future claims come from,” Buzachero said. “Those long-term impacts on heart disease and other kinds of things are what you’re after.”

Scripps boasts a 96-percent participation rate in its program -- Buzachero noted this drops to 56 percent in terms of the most active participators -- but many companies find it challenging to motivate the majority of their work force.

Only about 20 percent of the Airport Authority’s work force participates in Fitness Focus, which offers points toward earning gift certificates for everything from working out to volunteering to gardening to golfing without a golf cart.

Fredericksen said the true participation rate is likely higher, but many employees don’t take the time to record their hours or fill out the forms needed to claim their rewards.

Kyocera eliminated the paperwork using a Web-based program, said Muriel Schutte, Kyocera supervisor of human resources. Employees wear small, round, black pedometers, which automatically transfer the number of steps walked to a receiver. Employees can then check their data online.

Approximately 46 percent of employees participate, Schutte said.

The key to increasing involvement is often finding the varied mix of incentives and activities -- offering a “menu” so employees don’t get bored, said Michael Brase, Anthem Blue Cross medical director.

He suggested encouraging workers to do at least one thing rather than introduce a number of new habits and become overwhelmed.

Judith Mills, a wellness consultant and associate program ambassador with Anthem Blue Cross, said that having strong leadership and getting upper management involved in the program also is important.

“You need to see your leaders participating,” Mills said. “If you see your leader out there walking, how can you say you don’t really have time, if they have time?”


Send your comments to Rebecca.Go@sddt.com

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1 UserComments
Guy Talbert 7:12am November 5, 2009

I'd like to no more about the pedometers that Kyocera is using to log information that can be accessed online.