This article is part of EBN's year-long BeneFIT Success series, which chronicles employers and employees in their individual and organizational wellness triumphs. Learn how to submit your company as a candidate for the series at the end of the article.

At 5'4" and 232 pounds, Matt Napper jokes that he used to look like the Kool-Aid man. But thanks to some help from his employer, Fidelity Bank, the Kool-Aid man is no more. Napper, 28, lost 57 pounds in about four months while participating in Fidelity Bank's weight loss challenge.

And he did it through old-fashioned hard work, watching what he ate and getting more active.

"It's real easy for everyone to leave work and go through the drive-thru and then go home and sit around and watch TV for the rest of the night," says Napper, a customer service manager at one of Fidelity Bank's 13 branches in Pittsburgh, Penn. "Once I started eating healthier and doing more, the weight just started coming off."

Napper participated in Fidelity Bank's "Survival of the Fit" weight loss challenge. Employees pick their own teams of three to five people, and teams are randomly placed into one of two divisions. Each week over the course of 13 weeks, teams "play" each other. The winning team is the one with the most percentage of weight lost for that week. Winning teams move on to the next round.

 

Making the playoffs

After 13 weeks, there are three weeks of playoffs. The top four teams in both divisions "play," and the game moves into a championship week. The prize? A paid vacation day.

"People have a blast with it," says Kristen Valerio, HR manager with Fidelity. "You get people who are very competitive and really want to lose the weight, but then you also get people who just want to have fun with it."

And, despite getting his weight down to 175 pounds during the challenge, Napper and his team lost the top prize by a mere 0.01%. He still feels like a winner, though.

"I'm not waking up with aches and pains anymore. I just feel generally better. I have more energy," he says. "I feel healthier, and everybody's reaction to it was just amazing, which made me feel good too. When you look at yourself in the mirror and see a 232-pound guy, versus a 175-pound guy and you can see the look on people's faces, it's a good feeling."

Maintaining employee motivation over the long term was a sticking point, and led Valerio to tweak the "Survival of the Fit" program to focus on team achievement more than individual success. In the past, the winner was the person who lost the highest percentage of weight at the very end of the challenge. "We noticed as the weeks went on, interest dwindled. And that's mainly because people lost the motivation and the fun aspect," she recalls. "When we did it this way, with the teams, it seemed to keep the motivation up because you had to win each week if you wanted to keep up your standings."

 

Breaking old routines

Napper has maintained his weight by watching what he eats, reading food labels and getting more exercise by walking on the treadmill at the gym for 30 minutes to an hour, playing tennis or walking through his local park - anything to break his earlier routine of getting in the car and stopping for fast food on the way home.

"People don't like to use the word 'diet' anymore because you kind of set yourself up to fail sometimes," says Valerio. "Employees are looking at this as more of a lifestyle change. They're eating healthier. You don't see the junk food in the offices anymore. You see the healthy snacks, you see people walking outside at lunch. You see a change in people."

The "Survival of the Fit" challenge is just one of the initiatives Valerio has implemented since she joined Fidelity Bank four years ago and organized the company's first wellness committee. During her tenure, participation in the wellness program has slowly but steadily increased to 70%.

"As the program has developed, we've taken it from a step-oriented program, where you had to just complete the steps, to a points-structured program," explains Valerio. "Instead of just doing the steps and having cookie-cutter approach, it's now more flexible to employees. They can choose the different things that interest them and earn points to receive incentives."

Valerio quickly learned a wellness program can't be all things to all people. "No matter what the program is, no matter what the event is we offer, there is always someone who is going to complain," she says. "And I had to learn that if I wanted to keep this up, I had to focus on the people who want to do it for the right reasons and to not dwell on the people who were in it only to earn an incentive."

In the first year of the program, employees earn $25 for filling out an online commitment-to-wellness form and completing a health risk assessment. At the end of the year, if they've accumulated 6,000 points, they're awarded an additional $75.

In year two, once employees complete the online commitment form and the HRA, they receive a paid day off. And at the end of the year, if they've accumulated 6,000 points, they get a 5% discount on the following year's medical premium.

In year three and beyond, employees receive a paid day off, 5% off the following year's medical premiums and $50 for completing the commitment form, the HRA and earning 6,000 points.

 

Program open to everyone

The program has been so successful that Fidelity Bank has opened it up to staffers who are not on the company's benefits plan. Those employees must earn 5,000 points in addition to completing the commitment form.

Employees earn 1,000 points simply by completing the HRA. Other points-earning activities include taking online assessments and programs from Fidelity's insurance carrier UPMC, participating in the weight loss challenge, attending the company's quarterly wellness speaker series (available online as webinars for employees who can't attend) and submitting recipes or fitness tips on the company's intranet.

Points also are awarded for a variety of self-improvement activities. "Maybe you participate in a religious event with your church. Maybe you take the kids away from the TV for a night and have a family game night. Maybe you're working with your doctor to reduce your blood pressure. Or you run your first 5K," says Valerio. "It's anything you feel to be self-improving. And we don't judge what that is."

This year, the company offered biometric screenings - blood pressure, body mass index, glucose, cholesterol and nicotine testing. Employees earn one point for falling within the company's parameters on each of the five screens. Those who earn five points get an additional discount on their health care premiums (above and beyond the 5% discount they earn for accumulating 6,000 points.)

Ultimately, Valerio wants employees to "realize wellness encompasses all aspects of your life. It's not just about eating healthy and losing weight."

To submit your organization's BeneFIT Success story, email Editor-in-Chief Kelley Butler at kelley.butler@sourcemedia.com.

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