Working (Out) Together

Biking to work, hitting the gym, weighing-in? Sounds like a decent workout program. It's even better when it happens with employer reimbursements and co-worker encouragement.

Many area businesses are reacting to rising health care insurance costs with a hands-on fix and putting money into prevention instead of treatment.

While many employers start with a basic wellness program of a gym membership reimbursement or discount for their employees (around $100-$200 a year per person), area employers are starting to broaden their health initiatives and think outside of the box.

COST

What do employees stand to gain if they invest in their employees' health? Munson Medical Center's new wellness coordinator Lyndsay Bosley said that two things bear out over time:

– Employers can expect a return on

their investment in about three

years. They will start to see a

decrease in health insurance

claims and premiums.

– They can expect to save about $4,000

per year per person in claims.

"The idea is to move people from high risk to low risk categories," she said. "We look at things we can control like high blood pressure, sleep, cholesterol, alcohol use … those kinds of things."

But it's not just dollar signs that motivate area businesses to bring in wellness programs.

Across the board, all of those interviewed emphasized what a difference the programs have made in the workplace from camaraderie to inspiration to motivation.

"Our mission is more than saving money," Bosley said. "We are role models for the community and our patients. We are creating an 'enthusiast network,' where we mentor and encourage others."

CULTURE

Indeed, it's become a culture in some area businesses, where work/life balance is as good, if not better, than any worksheet balance.

Sarah Naperala, director of human resources with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, takes pride in their workplace wellness culture.

"We value the need for balance and offer a flexible work environment as job duties may allow. This might be attendance at a favorite yoga class at lunch or leaving early to catch the public bus," she said. "When we hit the figurative wall in the office, we can head outside to the Commons across the road and go for a quick walk to reduce the stress."

Naperala said she enjoys the feeling that she can do all these things without catching a sidelong glance from any co-workers. It's the norm in their office, Naperala said.

"No one is scowling at you if you are a little late because you missed your connecting bus. When I have come into work after a morning workout class, I am 'patted' on the back by others," she said. "I regularly use the shower on site after an early morning workout and don't feel weird about it. One woman completed her first 5K, and she was congratulated at our weekly staff check-in."

GTRLC also promotes a "smart commute" culture which has its own side effect.

"There are more folks riding their bikes to work and when this happens, people seem happier," Naperala said.

CREATIVITY

Area employers are thinking outside of the box when it comes to motivation and goals.

On June 8, Munson will launch its first 5K run/walk for employees and friends. It is part of the hospital's new MyWellness program, Bosley said.

The race director for the 5K is Dr. Jake Flynn.

"He's a local face and a great runner to steer this initiative," Bosley said.

The idea drew about 50 to a recent meeting. The goal is to bring the group through something like a "Couch to 5K" program in the next few months.

The wellness initiative is a three-fold approach at Munson, Bosley said.

"It's not about just losing weight; we also want to incorporate physical activity, exercise and wellbeing," she said. "People need different things to be healthy. We are looking at things like stress and balance also in our programs."

One of the most visible programs in the area is Hagerty's new on-site gym, Ironworks Health and Fitness, which is at this time open only to their 500 employees.

Carmen Stevens, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Community Relations at Hagerty, said they also offer employees a $150 annual wellness benefit, race/walk reimbursements, annual health screenings and food consortium delivery, among other wellness perks.

"We want to motivate, educate and encourage individuals to embrace and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle," Stevens said.

Other employers are playing up their business and camaraderie at the same time.

Northwestern Bank riffs off their "I can do that!" business slogan each spring with an "I can lose that!" 12-week weight loss program, said Nicole Edenburn, manager at the Garfield office.

Company-wide, 68 participants lost a total of 615 pounds in 2012. To spark participation, the bank offers gym membership reimbursements and other wellness programs.

"Health insurance costs have increased for the bank dramatically, especially over the past two to three years," Edenburn said. "This trend is expected to continue to increase as the new laws take affect. When you consider the amount of money that the bank pays for our health insurance, why not also pay to help keep people fit and healthy?"

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