In a six-week challenge last summer, more than 300 employees at Simonton Windows, a manufacturer of energy-efficient vinyl windows and doors, lost 1,470 pounds.
The challenge included 151 teams of two employees per team from Simonton facilities in West Virginia, Illinois, Oklahoma and California. The winning team, Tons of Fun, lost a combined 49 pounds by cutting out cheeseburgers, embracing exercise and eating healthy foods.
"I’m terrible about late night snacking, so this challenge really pushed me to change my eating habits," says Jon Cunningham, a buyer in the purchasing department for Simonton. He and his teammate walked two miles at lunch every day and replaced high fat foods like cheeseburgers with healthier fare like grilled chicken and salad.
The buddy system was very popular, says Kathy Ziprik, spokeswoman for Simonton.
“The tag team aspect really helped in the workplace environment, because that’s a place where you’re not always thinking about yourself so much as you are getting the job done and doing what you need to do to get through the day,” she says.
All nine Simonton facilities across the U.S. work directly with professional coaches from Wellness Coaches USA. Coaches help individual employees address their lifestyle issues, including nutrition, exercise, diet and weight loss, medication noncompliance, tobacco cessation and chronic health conditions.
In addition to the one-on-one support, the coaches lead group sessions at the Simonton facilities on various health and wellness topics on a regular basis. Phone consultations and website support are also available to employees.
In addition to individual coaches, Simonton provides a results-based wellness incentives program for its employees. Bravo Wellness, LLC monitors the blood pressure, body mass index, tobacco use and cholesterol levels of employees.
Program always evolving
The wellness program at Simonton is constantly evolving, says Ziprik. While last summer the company chose to shine the spotlight on weight loss, this year it could be a different health issue.
But, based on the success of last year’s summer weight loss challenge, Simonton is working to develop another program this year that will involve a challenge of some sort.
Incentives for participating in the wellness program, which includes biometric screening, range from small cash bonuses to reductions in health care premiums. “But the biggest incentive is the healthy lifestyle and we’ve heard that repeatedly from employees,” says Ziprik.
In addition, she says, “when people see a positive result from investing their time and energy in losing weight, that spreads like wildfire through their workplace community. Losing weight is only one aspect. It’s [about] making healthier choices. The education is very, very critical.”
One of the challenges is producing wellness programming that works for both Simonton’s the corporate office environment and its manufacturing environment.
Simonton addresses the challenge by tailoring its wellness program to meet the needs of employees.
In the office environment, it may host a lunch ‘n’ learn seminar on body mass index, for example. In the manufacturing environment, the same information could be delivered at a pre-shift meeting "or we’ll put up some posters in the lunch room and have our wellness coach available during breaks to schedule some time one-on-one [with employees]."
In the fast-paced manufacturing environment, says Ziprik, it’s easy for employees to say ‘I don’t have time for lunch. I’m just going to throw down a bag of Cheetos and a Coke from the vending machine.’
"It’s all about educating employees to take the time for themselves, to make the right choices with regards to eating, alcohol and tobacco consumption, cholesterol and things of that nature," she adds.
As well, she notes, some of Simonton’s manufacturing facilities are located in small communities that don’t have as many resources as larger, metropolitan areas.
“They haven’t had the opportunity for education as much as a person who lives in a larger city may have had,” she says. “Bigger cities have runs and walks in support of various causes. So it’s definitely seen as an advantage in the community that Simonton is working with our employees to help them have better lifestyles.”
Providers lend credibility
Ziprik recommends working with third-party wellness providers to lend the program credibility. “By having the expertise of an outside organization, an employer is saying immediately ‘we care about you, we’re investing in you, we have this expert to help you,’” she says.
Wellness experts can also help alleviate any confidentiality concerns. An employee might not want their employer to know how bad their smoking habit is, for example, but they might feel more comfortable confiding in his or her coach. “There’s more privacy there,” says Ziprik.
The other nice thing about working with a wellness provider, according to Ziprik, is that you’re working with someone whose sole job is wellness.
"It’s not the responsibility of someone in human resources, who is also working on hiring, for example, and other benefits programs," she says. "These people are working hand-in-hand with us in order to help our employees lose weight, live healthier lifestyles and make the right choices," she explains.
Simonton’s senior management team was on board with wellness from the get-go and that helped get the program off the ground.
"It’s one of those things you can put off and say ‘we don’t have the budget for it this year,’ but it takes a strong management team to say ‘we can’t afford not to do this; we need to support our employees,'" says Ziprik. “And that’s what this team said: ‘We’re making an investment in the company by doing this program.'"
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