Earlier this year, SAIF Corporation, the workers’ compensation insurance program for the state of Oregon, earned recognition as the state’s healthiest employer in a survey sponsored by the Portland Business Journal.
The company, which has 950 employees, takes a three-pronged approach to wellness: awareness, education and action. In 2008, SAIF launched its first biometrics screening health assessment program, followed by educational seminars to teach employees what their numbers meant, says Renae Coombs, SAIF’s human resources manager.
“A lot of people were diagnosed as diabetic, prediabetic, hypertensive, lots of conditions were unveiled at that time,” says Coombs. “So then we spent a long time educating employees about what the means and how they can improve their health.”
In 2011, SAIF partnered with wellness vendor Virgin Pulse to help tackle the third component: action. “We loved it because it works around-the-clock whether you want to come onsite to a fitness class or you want to do yoga before work or run after work,” says Coombs. “It rewards people for behaviors regardless of where they want to do them.”
SAIF runs a volunteer wellness committee made up of employees from all of the company’s offices and divisions. “That gives me a good ear out in the company to see what employees are talking about, what they like, so I don’t have to do big surveys all the time,” says Coombs. “I just ask a bunch of my committee members to ask a bunch of their co-workers what they think.”
The company provides pedometers to all employees and encourages walking meetings and breaks. Additionally, SAIF employees have access to sit-stand workstations, which enable users to stand while working. The company has also purchased a number of games for the workplace, including a ping-pong table and a Pop-A-Shot basketball game.
The wellness program is also tied to SAIF’s benefits program. For employees to get a discount on their health insurance premiums, they must complete the health assessment, biometric screening and sign up with Virgin Pulse. “The idea is that the more you [employees] are willing to partner with us, we’re going to keep your benefits as low as we possibly can and offer the best benefit package we can to our employees who are engaged,” says Coombs. “We’re not saying you have to be 100% healthy to be in there. We’re saying that you have to be trying, and be engaged.”
The program also uses cash incentives. Employees can earn up to $400 a year for being physically active. “We’ve seen over the last few years our employees really want that cash and found that they’re getting to the [wellness program] levels much faster and they’re getting the higher levels every year,” says Coombs.
SAIF’s emphasis on wellness has transformed the company’s culture, says Coombs. “Back in 2008, I didn’t know of anyone doing walking meetings and now it’s very common to see two co-workers out in their suits with tennis shoes walking,” she says, adding that the company has tripled the size of its onsite shower and locker room in recent years and “the lockers are full every day.”
What’s worked for SAIF, says Coombs, is constantly switching up the variety and timing of various wellness activities. “We do nutrition – one-on-one counseling and group sessions – but we don’t do it all year every year,” she says. “We do it and then we take it away, we do something else and then we bring it back and employees are excited to see it come back again. I think you have to be willing to change things up.”
Ninety-seven percent of SAIF’s employees participate in the wellness program.
“I see a lot of companies give lip service to wellness and they say ‘we want you to take an HRA and we want you to take a biometric screening,’” says Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse. “That’s all they want you do to and to me, that’s lip service.”
SAIF’s wellness efforts have gone beyond lip service, he believes. “If you give employees the tools to actually make daily changes to their habits and they engage in those changes, then you can change the culture,” he says. “We really believe in this idea of organic growth from the bottom up, which is to give people the tools, give people the incentive, the structure, give them something fun and easy to use and they’ll use it.”
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