Lincoln Industries feels so strongly about wellness that the company has made it a component of its employees' performance reviews.

The company, based in Lincoln, Neb., employs about 400 people in a 24/7 operation that manufactures products needing high-performance metal finishing. Some of its clients include Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Pella and John Deere.

In 2004, Lincoln Industries added the following wellness statement to its list of corporate beliefs and drivers: Wellness and healthy lifestyles are important to our success.

"If it's good enough to be part of the foundation of our organization, then it should be evaluated is how we perceived it," says Tonya Vyhlidal, wellness, safety and life enhancement director at Lincoln Industries.

Wellness goals are self-defined annually and are part of employees' performance reviews. Senior managers, in particular, are responsible for setting a good example, with as much as 25% of their performance review dependent on meeting their wellness goals, which include wellness leadership responsibility.

Directors can have between 10% and 15% of their review based on wellness objectives, while lower managerial levels can attribute up to 5% of their review to meeting wellness goals.

"I've seen people hold themselves accountable to going home and eating dinner with their family twice a week because we're so busy," says Vyhlidal. "I've seen people put their blood profile numbers on there; I've seen people put things related to their faith practice on there. It's really designed by the individual but worked on with, and supported by, their supervisor."

Production workers, meanwhile, evaluate themselves based on a matrix that's built around wellness, safety and quality. Workers rate themselves anywhere from zero to five, their supervisor rates them, and both sides sit down and discuss it.

Vyhlidal emphasizes the matrix is not based on physical fitness level and personal appearance but rather on employees' engagement level, understanding and support of wellness and their leadership.

Wellness challenge

Vyhlidal says her biggest challenge is making sure there's something for everyone. "We're very fortunate in that we have a strong company culture, but people come from various walks of life, different nationalities and so, for us, it's constantly tweaking and finding that right variety of activities and programs and initiatives to really support our people in becoming well."

A few years ago, the company introduced a trigger-point therapy program to help employees on the production floor deal with musculoskeletal problems. It's massage therapy that focuses on the parts of the body where people are having problems or pain.

It's available to every employee on the production floor in a 15-minute session once every two weeks. Some employees in certain high-risk, high-impact areas have the opportunity to have it done twice a week.

"Let's say you come in and the back of your neck is throbbing and you have a lot of tension in your lats [back muscle] and you're somebody who works on the production floor lifting racks, pinching and pulling parts," says Vyhlidal. "That therapist, for 15 minutes, is going to focus in on working on that scar tissue and really alleviating that pain."

And while she hasn't crunched the financial numbers yet, Vyhlidal says "most people come in with pain levels of eight [out of 10] and leave with a one or a two. And that's the constant theme." In addition, Lincoln Industries experienced 30% fewer workers' comp injuries in the first year of the program.

Lincoln spends about $400,000 a year on wellness, including salaries. Over the course of the recession, "we had to get very creative in finding ways to do things at a lower cost.

Some of the programs we'd originally planned for and put an expense to just weren't going to happen," says Vyhlidal. "The team had to get creative and use some of our own knowledge to cover the gaps."

The grand finale of Lincoln's wellness year - an expenses-paid mountain climb in Colorado with Lincoln executives for employees who meet and maintain certain wellness goals - was cancelled in 2009 but reinstated last year.

Vyhlidal encourages wellness coordinators and those responsible for the wellness function within their companies not to build their own brick walls.

"People have more access to resources than they realize," she says. "I didn't think I had a lot of resources either, but when I started looking into my community and my local colleges and within my organization, I built a sort of wellness faculty."

Part of Lincoln's mental health program, for example, is modeled after a local group, St. Monica's, which focuses on helping women get back into the workforce after they've been out of work for alcohol or drug abuse. "We learned from their model," says Vyhlidal.

"We're dealing with life skills - conflict management, decision-making - and bringing that into our environment and building an educational program that's based on teaching people how to use coping skills and to really think about their behaviors and understand what perception is, and to listen." she adds.

It's a six-week program where employees can learn about stress, depression and different types of coping mechanisms. In the seventh week, employees build a sort of mental health toolkit.

"It's a new thing for us, but we're getting great feedback," says Vyhlidal. "[Employees] are hoping to learn more about their triggers, how to calm themselves down, how to think about things differently and just becoming more informed."

For organizations, Vyhlidal has the following advice: "If you bring someone on to do the wellness program efforts, be careful about how far down in the organization you push them. If they're four lines down from a director, or four lines down from a VP, it's going to be more difficult to get the results you want than if they're at the table with you, helping make those decisions and having a clear understanding of where the business is going."

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