It also can cost an employer dearly.
Workers compensation, a shift in health insurance rates -- and most importantly, at least a temporary loss of a valued employee -- can push related costs into six figures.
It has since created a juggernaut that includes standing desks, a recreation area, and a fitness center that costs employees
"It's not a fluff program," said
Not every company embraces such an approach, particularly those driven by a bottom-line mentality where success is demanded quickly and return on investment must be easy to quantify.
"We know wellness programs work but the payoff is long-term,"
Here's what is known:
One of every
For the workplace wellness doubters, here's what Miller can say. New Era started small, and inexpensively, with its program. It nurtured it with more human and financial capital as it grew. And in an ever costlier health care climate, the effort helped keep health insurance premiums flat for the last three years. Productivity improved. Employee turnover dropped.
"The fact that our premiums aren't rising helps keep our employees engaged and further committed to these programs," Miller said, "because it's affecting their bottom line, too."
New Era and about 70 other companies will come together on Thursday in
It takes time to develop a solid workplace wellness program. "It is not an overnight success," said
New Era started 10 years ago with a corporate version of the Wegmans "Eat Well, Live Well" program, which used paper charts to track eating and exercise, and brochures to offer health tips and recipes.
Miller was asked to run the wellness program shortly after she arrived eight years ago. She surveyed employees, asking about their needs and interests. She also turned for more help to the company's insurance carrier,
New Era added a wellness component to its health insurance plan. "We also took advantage of every free community resource we could," Miller said. "National Walk at Lunch Day doesn't cost anything. You just say, 'Hey, we're walking.'"
Five years ago, Miller started to collaborate with
Kennedy works with about 50 companies in the 50- to 1,000-employee range. She knows smaller companies also have started walking clubs, weight loss challenges and modest programs of their own.
"It takes commitment," Miller said. "I know it can be hard for employers to have a person who spends time on something like this, but once you start to see the rewards -- employee enthusiasm in wellness -- it becomes a fun team-building experience. It's a nice stress-reliever, a break from the paperwork and the deadlines and the things you have going on every day."
Employees will come around, said
THE COST OF POOR HEALTH
Number of Americans who live with at least one chronic diseases: 117-plus million
Overall percentage of health costs for their care: 75%
Annual associated costs:
Per person for treatment:
Per person on prevention:
For all cardiovascular disease care:
* Does not include nursing home care
Surveys and wellness committees can help lay the groundwork for successful wellness plans. "This isn't a task one person should ever try to take on themselves," Miller said. Committees should meet monthly, she said, even if nothing is on the horizon, and lay out plans each fall for the following calendar year. "That's kept us on track," Miller said.
Momentum continued when the company sought out "wellness champions" at each of its work sites, immersed them in the company's wellness offerings and urged them to sign up fellow employees for programs and activities. "They don't get extra points or gift cards," Miller said. "They do it because it's fun."
The wellness team coordinates email blasts about various activities, as well as video spots for in-house TVs. A "street team" leaves flyers at coffee machines and on employee desks. "We want to get people excited," Miller said. "We want a lot of people to participate. Sometimes it takes several reminders to get people involved."
LEADERS MUST LEAD
New Era executives support wellness-related activities. Miller recalls the chief financial officer setting the tone eight years ago by leading the first New
"It was exciting for employees to see leadership participating. They don't necessarily have a lot of face time with people like that, so to see them in a more casual environment was fun. The executives loved it because we weren't in our stressful environment. Things kind of grew from that."
EMPLOYEES COME FIRST
New Era has a stated goal that it wants to help workers "become the best version of themselves in work and life ... not just to save money but to help employees truly thrive."
"We talk a lot about work-life balance," Miller said, "and this is our way of bringing some of the things from your life outside in, and trying to intermingle them throughout the day. Instead of sitting at a desk or a sewing machine and doing the same thing, take a break, get some of the fresh fruit we offer. We have a full-service cafeteria with healthy food options. We have vending machines with healthy options. We have a fitness center open the whole day. We have a personal trainer on staff."
"That sense of community is helpful," said Bordonaro, 34, a married father of two. When you're a busy parent "it's easy to cut something out, and the first thing you cut out is you," he said. "It's no secret that, on my own, I wasn't really doing it. It's about giving you tools and making something that isn't necessarily the number one most fun thing you can think of more accessible and manageable."
New Era also has to address different needs of its 850-member staff scattered across several communities. Burmese and Vietnamese are the main languages spoken in the
"Some don't want to participate in a weight loss challenge," Miller said. "It's actually offensive to them. Those are some of the things we've learned over the years. They might skip that one and be interested in the next one we offer."
The New Era wellness culture encourages, but doesn't require, participation. "Somebody doesn't have to be all-in right away," Irizarry-Sauer said. "For me, it was starting with the weight loss challenge. I kept seeing results and I kept going from there and it's built into something it wasn't a year ago. It's also very sustainable, which is important given I'm a full-time working wife and mom."
What she's learned at work has rubbed off at home. Her husband, Jason, and sons, Tristan, 6, and Emmett, 3 1/2 , have become regulars at the finish line of her races, including the Shamrock Run two weeks ago. The family nutrition dynamic also has improved.
"I wanted to set a healthy example for my sons," Irizarry-Sauer said. "I wanted them to see me making better food choices and being more active. I want them to do the same as they grow up."
New Era began to take bolder steps with its wellness program in 2013, adding pieces and creating the New Era LIFE wellness brand. They continued weight loss challenges early in the year, added on-site health screenings in the spring, a sun safety and hydration program in summer, an autumn walking program and a weight maintenance challenge during the late-year holidays.
Miller described the spring the barometric screenings as a "very comprehensive" 36-panel blood test that measures kidney, liver and heart function, blood sugar, good and bad cholesterol, and lots more. Several workers have said the confidential testing caught budding health issues.
"Those people never would have known otherwise," Miller said, "and we're grateful, because some of these things are pretty silent, and they were able to get ahead of it."
Putting a brand on the wellness program also helped, Kennedy said. New Era LIFE logos appear on related emails, and company water bottles, sunscreen, towels and bags. During cold and flu season, small bottles of sanitizer also bear the brand name.
This year, employees also have been encouraged to get their own
"New Era also sees wellness as more than exercise and healthy eating," Kennedy said. "They really look at the whole person and the different dimensions of wellness. That includes financial and mental health, and stress management."
New Era has hosted "lunch and learn" programs about retirement planning and how to buy a house, better sleep and stress reduction. It gives flex time for volunteer efforts and tuition reimbursement for employees who want to build on their education -- and makes ergonomic work stations a priority.
"We spend a good majority of our lives in these buildings, so we have focused on work stations," Miller said. "By the end of next year, all employees will have stand-up desks. Forty percent of the headquarters building already does." It adds an expense, she said, but sitting for eight hours can lead to back problems and absenteeism. "We want people up and moving around, engaging with each other, not just with their head down on the desk."
New Era also is among companies in the region that includes a strong mental health component under its wellness umbrella.
"It's important for managers to recognize signs and symptoms" of physical and mental illness, Kennedy said, "and know how to get employees help."
As other companies -- and workers -- worry about changes on the national health care landscape, Miller gives this advice to employees in her company: "Keep doing what you're doing. Participate in our programs and do what you can to stay healthy. We're on the right path."
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon
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