Gat Caperton knew his company's wellness program was working when the factory experienced a problem with fruit flies.
Sales at the office snack and soda machines had decreased about 40 percent, and his 100 employees began making apples and bananas their break time food of choice. The extra fruit consumed lead to the flies.
But for Caperton, that was a good problem to have.
Caperton, owner of Gat Creek, a handmade furniture manufacturer in Berkeley Springs, began offering wellness coaching and classes to his employees more than a year ago. As a self insured business, the company is particularly sensitive to health care costs, which Caperton said are his third highest expense, after employee payroll and the cost of raw wood for furniture.
So Caperton began bringing a nurse into the business to conduct educational seminars and assist with year-long wellness plans for employees who wanted them. The twice-monthly, one-hour programs attracted about a third of his work force, he said.
But even those workers who don't attend the meetings have changed their approach to eating and wellness, Caperton said. "There's chatter throughout the operation," he said.
"People who don't attend are talking about it. It goes further than you think."
Simple changes have brought about health improvements, Caperton said.
"People have been able to reduce their blood pressure through change of lifestyle rather than drugs," he said. "Our real goal is for people to need fewer prescriptions."
Employee wellness programs have become somewhat standard as health care costs continue to rise and companies look for ways to reduce expenses. Often, incentives such as lowered insurance premiums, or even cash bonuses, bring employees into programs that track weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and other basic health indicators.
Last year, WVU Hospitals East in Martinsburg conducted health-risk assessments for 550 employees. That number equated to about two-thirds of the hospital's eligible staff, according to Human Resources Director Michelle Thomas. Employees began with a health assessment, including blood pressure and blood testing. They then received scorecards to track their progress.
"Participation is required in order to get certain incentives in your health insurance," Thomas said.
As a health care operation, it was nearly automatic for WVU Hospitals East to undertake wellness programming that includes everything from exercising to healthy eating classes to smoking cessation," Thomas said. Success with the program shows up in premium reductions of as much as 10 percent, she said.
In Charles Town, the benefits package for employees of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races includes health insurance that is supported by an onsite medical clinic and wellness activities that offer prizes. A recent program, called 10,000 Steps, "encouraged employees to get out and walk," said company Human Resources Vice President Karen Raffo.
The racetrack's employee wellness program goes beyond just physical health, though touching on both emotional and financial health. Offsite counselors, including credit counselors, are available to employees anonymously to deal with stress of any sort," Raffo said.
The racetrack also hosted a weight-loss initiative similar to the TV show, "The Biggest Loser," which offered $350 gift cards to the three employees who shed the most weight. The company's effort was reinforced in the employee cafeteria, at which fried foods were taken off the menu, Raffo said.
"We take our wellness right down to the our staff every day," she said.