A healthy worker is a productive worker.
Several studies conducted in the past decade have found employees who eat healthy and exercise regularly perform better on the job and show up more often.
The finding has pushed more employers to invest in workplace wellness programs, and local companies are no exception.
Several Columbus businesses offer robust programs for smoking cessation, weight loss and stress reduction. Some have been honored by state and national organizations for their efforts.
Beth Morris, executive director of the Healthy Communities initiative, said many Columbus businesses — in addition to offering workplace wellness programs — have pledged to conduct healthy meetings and events.
She said the workplace is one of the easiest places to target unhealthy lifestyles.
“Most of us spend as much, if not more, time at work than we do at home,” she said.
So employers are encouraged to examine their environment — both social and built.
How easy is it to find the stairs? When an employee is craving an afternoon snack, what’s available in the vending machine? What food is sitting on the table for that business meeting?
“If an employee is trying to watch what he or she eats and goes to a meeting with a bowl of chocolate on every table and soft drinks available, that is a very different environment than if the business has fruit on the table and water to drink,” Morris said.
But some businesses have gone above and beyond the minimum recommendations from Healthy Communities.
The National Business Group of Health honored Cummins Inc. as one of the nation’s leading corporations for innovative programs promoting a healthy workplace. That was in 2009, and efforts have grown since then.
The Fortune 200 company, the largest employer in the region, has purchased several treadmills, allowing employees to walk up to five or six miles per day while checking email or editing documents.
Chief Medical Officer Dexter Shurney said the company sees itself as a facilitator for healthy behavior and lifestyles.
“We all kind of understand that healthy employees are good employees,” he said.
Most employees participate in the Virgin HealthMiles program, which gives employees a discount on their insurance premium if they log enough miles.
Counseling resources are available to employees to help them stop smoking, and employees have the option to track their vitals statistics online.
A recent pilot program called the Complete Health Improvement Project challenged a select group to look at their nutrition, physical activity, sleep and stress level. None of the employees in the pilot program dropped out, and Cummins workers are lining up to be part of the next cycle, Shurney said.
“For us, we think it’s part of who we are as an employer to make sure there’s a healthy and safe environment,” he said. “That’s our role, and we want to continue that.”
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., another one of the largest employers in Columbus, replaced the administration’s vending machines with a water cooler and ice maker several years ago. It was just one effort the school district made to transform offices and cafeterias into a healthier environment.
Kelli Thompson, director of health services for BCSC, said employees participate in community lifestyle challenges individually and as teams. When food is ordered for a meeting, it goes through the food services department, which has its own healthy guidelines.
BCSC, which feeds more people daily in Columbus than any restaurant, does not own a deep fryer. All meals served at the schools are nutritious and healthy, based on USDA requirements.
Nora Coleman, a teacher at Parkside Elementary, has been considered a health champion for the district. Her school has won a Healthy Hoosier School award nine years in a row.
She gets young students fired up about fitness and health by offering incentives such as “Toe Tokens,” which students can earn by running laps around the soccer field.
“Once a child can see that they can do the exercise or game skill or fitness expectation, it builds their self-confidence and makes them want more,” Coleman said. “In order for a child to be successful in school, one has to have a healthy mind and healthy body. Nutrition, physical activity and health education are so important to teach our children.”
City of Columbus
The Mill Race Marathon has given employers a new opportunity to promote health in the workplace. Some employers have offered to pay for employees to register in the Mill Race Marathon or associated races, and others have offered insurance incentives for training.
Mayor Kristen Brown has challenged City of Columbus employees to be healthier and more active by training for and participating in the event.
“The races serve as a motivating catalyst for so many of us in the community to get more active and healthier,” she said. “The city of Columbus is fielding a team to show the community that we really do ‘run’ this city and to encourage others to join us in setting a goal to improve their health.”
Department heads will track participation and miles and provide support and motivation through the Mayor’s Workplace Challenge.
It’s not just Columbus area businesses, government or schools that have caught the Mill Race Marathon bug. Last year, 43 employees from Senior Flexonics boarded a bus in Chicago and traveled to Columbus to participate in marathon events.
General Manager Joe Mockus said the event fit well with the company’s existing workplace wellness initiative, which allowed employees to accrue points for participating in different fitness activities.
Since that day in September, the plant has launched a running club, offered Zumba classes and sponsored memberships to the local parks system.
“It’s just really taken off, our employees really love it,” Mockus said. “We want to enable employees to feel better for themselves, for their families.”
Mockus himself has lost 15 pounds since last year’s race, and he said he feels a lot better while chasing his kids around.
So far more than 50 Senior Flexonics employees have signed up to board the bus to Columbus again this year, and Mockus is excited about the event and the teamwork it builds.
“The Mill Race Marathon kicked it off for us. It kind of turbocharged our activity level,” he said. “Just one random call we got a year ago has really become a big initiative for us, and we’ve become really excited about it.”
At a minimum, Healthy Communities suggests the following steps employers can take to build a healthy workplace:
- Make clean water available to all employees at no charge and make it easy to obtain.
- If the building has more than one floor, make sure the stairwells are well-lit and safe.
- If the business has vending machines, make sure healthy options outnumber the unhealthy ones, are clearly marked and, if feasible, are offered at a lower price.
- If the business has a workplace cafeteria, provide nutritional information and ensure that healthy options are available and, preferably, cheaper.