Fifteen years ago I was pretty much a sedentary person. I worked in an office, came home every night tired, ate dinner, watched tv, or read a book, or spent time on my computer. I was very much aware of wellness and health issues. At the job I had from 2001 until 2007, I was responsible for the benefits for 1,400 employees. I also worked very closely with my coworker who was responsible for employees’ leave for Worker’s Compensation and FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) leaves.
I noticed that most of the employees who were out for many weeks on medical leave were out for conditions that were preventable. I started hearing about this concept of wellness programs that was starting at companies all over the country. It was a new concept, but it intrigued me that we could encourage our employees to do the things that keep them healthy. Not only would this be good for the employee, it was good for the company. There would be less days taken off for sick time (which is costly to a company), and employees work better when they feel good (which is good for production for the company). It sounded like a win/win thing to me. What company wouldn’t want to have this initiative?
I did research and presented this idea to the director of the company. He thought it was a great idea if I could do it on zero dollars. Really? The research I had done showed that the return on investment to these wellness initiatives was $5 for every $1 spent. That was money saved on paying sick days, lost production, and less insurance claims paid out, thus reducing a very expensive benefit (health insurance) for employees. Finally, a few months later, my immediate supervisor said I should put together a presentation to deliver in January to the senior executives of my idea.
By this time I had gotten discouraged at the lack of foresight my superiors had, and I had started looking for a new opportunity. I started a new job at a company that was owned by a Fortune 100 company. We had 100 employees at our location. Apparently in the process of my interviewing, I must have mentioned my enthusiasm about a wellness program. I started the new job on January 8, 2007. (Thus, the presentation to my previous company never happened). My first day on the job, my new boss asked me if I wanted to start a wellness program. Of course, I was most excited about the opportunity. He asked me how much money I wanted, and I wasn’t sure what to reply. Before I had a chance to reply, he said, “How about $10,000 for the year?” Wow! Really? I couldn’t get my previous company to give me a penny for 1,400 employees, and now I was going to get $10,000 for 100 employees. I knew it was probably more than I needed, but with that budget I could work with a free hand. I set up a wellness committee who helped with ideas they knew would work with their coworkers.
I decided the first thing we could do was start a walking competition. My administrative assistant and I looked for pedometers for all the employees. Not knowing much about this, we bought them through a premium company, and had our company’s name on each of them. They were cheap, and you get what you pay for—they were not accurate. We ended up at a sporting goods store, and purchased a pedometer for each employee who signed up for the competition. We made this a team competition. When we got the registrations (which was 80% of the employees), we randomly selected names for the teams. We posted the names on sticky notes on a board and looked them over. Although randomly done, we saw some teams were all men or all women or all from one department, so we tweaked the teams by moving around the sticky notes to make well balanced teams by age, department, and gender. Each team had a team coach of folks who volunteered. They were to select their team name, and we took photos of each team, and posted the photo with the team names on the bulletin board in the lunchroom. The teams were creative with their naming and it became a fun competition.
One of the things that made me the most please with this first initiative, was the day the CFO commented to me that this was the first time he saw people stop in the hallways to talk about their progress with coworkers they never spoke with before. He loved that we made the teams diverse and that everyone was getting to know others better.
I was new at this sort of thing, so we based our scoring on steps. We had team winners and individual winners. People worked hard as they saw the weekly scores posted in the lunchroom. They weren’t about to let the other team get ahead of them. In the last two weeks, I stopped posting team and individual totals. They knew what they were up against, and I wanted winners to be equally surprised. At the end of the competition, we had a company lunch (with healthy food), and everyone who participated was given a sweatshirt that was designed by the wellness committee. I still wear mine, and will be sad when it is too threadbare to wear any longer—I have been wearing it for 11 years! Gift cards were given to the members of the winning team and to the individual winners.
Then we presented a gift card to the most improved individual. This young man was overweight and kind of an introvert. He was on a team with an older female employee who saw he wasn’t posting many steps at all. She stopped him in the hall one day, and asked him if he would like to walk with her during their lunch break. He accepted the offer, and we saw this young man come out of his shell, it just changed his demeanor at work. He began working hard at keeping up with his teammates to bring in good numbers. He deserved to win a prize as much as the person who out-walked everyone in the company. Jason was so surprised when we called him up and gave him a $50 gift card for his hard work. He looked healthier, and he was engaged.
That competition was fun, but it was extremely time consuming, and it also did not address issues of someone who was unable to walk any distances. The following year an employee told me they found a competition online called “Blue and You.” It was sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arkansas, and it was open to anyone who wanted to sign up. Instead of having many teams, our whole company was a team. The requirement was to log in daily with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise of any kind. Therefore, a person who was not able to walk distances, could do some sort of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes was equal to a fit athlete who did 30 minutes of running.
I signed our company up for the competition in January. In February, employees could go online and enter our company code and sign up as a participant. The competition started in March and ended the last of May. BC/BS had the competitors by the number that signed up, so we were in a category with companies, churches, and any other organization with the similar number of participants. To keep the employees motivated, I had prizes for every ten days of their posting results. They started out as small things such as fruit, bottled water with our wellness logo on the label, small premium items, such as a company key chain, and as the numbers got bigger, it could be a company logo tee shirt or hat, or a gift card. It was an incentive to continue posting their results. We took 1st place in our category for three years straight.
As the Manager of Human Resources, I felt I had to be participating if I wanted the employees to participate. All of a sudden I was walking and drinking water instead of soft drinks. I was seeing a difference in my body and fitness, although without dieting, my weight did not come down a lot.
After retiring, I found I wasn’t as active and weight crept up. It was very sneaky, because I didn’t notice—until I noticed! Why are we blind to it until we realize it’s a big problem. In 2016 I went on my weight loss adventure. If you click here you can read my blog about the weight loss and winning a contest about it. I was doing a ton of walking either on the treadmill or outdoors.
Then 2018 happened. I noticed in December of 2017 that I was limping a bit, and my hip hurt, so I went to see a doctor. Long story short—over the next 10 months, my hip continued to deteriorate, and by October, I couldn’t walk more than a few feet. It hurt to sit, to walk, and to move. The doctor said I needed a total hip replacement of my left hip, and it was scheduled for early November. During those 10 months, as my hip was deteriorating, so was my walking. The early part of the year, I did good walking, but quickly it was going to a complete stop because of the pain.
When I was on my diet, supervised by a doctor, I had to eat under 1,000 calories with exercise in order to lose weight. I made sure I had a lot of protein, along with a balanced diet, and fluids just to lose the weight. So now, I was not able to walk and I’m not eating less than 1,000 calories, and the weight globbed back on—not completely, but enough to make me uncomfortable. Then was the surgery. I am now three months out, and am able to do considerable walking. I walk anywhere from 2 to 4 miles either around the Arizona neighborhood or on the trails on the mountain.
Today it is raining—all day—in Arizona. The state is in a drought so this is really needed. Our new home includes a brand new community center—so brand new that their grand opening is this coming Saturday. Today we drove up there, and went to the fitness center and worked out. I LOVED it. I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, worked on various machines which really felt good working muscles that don’t get worked out walking, and ended with 20 minutes of peddling. I will increase the time when I return. I forgot how it feels so good to move these old muscles of mine. I was really stoked today, knowing that my next 8 weeks here should make a real difference in my fitness and weight.
I still think with fondness of all the wellness efforts made when I was working. I knew back then that being proactive in our health keeps the doctors away, unless you lose the cartilage in your hip! I have really good blood pressure, and blood sugar. I do not take any prescription medications for any chronic conditions—I intend to keep it this way.
I am so grateful to be as healthy as I am, and that entering my 7th decade, I see a lot of healthy activity still in my future.
Great post, I really enjoyed reading your experiences. My health insurance has a program similar to the one you designed. Good health is truly a blessing!