This article is the third in EBN's year-long BeneFIT Success series, which chronicles employers and employees in their individual and organizational wellness triumphs. The first installment, "Uphill battle, downhill momentum," was featured in the March EBN and the second, "Popular wellness program proving to be common link for diverse employee population," appeared in EBN April 15. Both articles are available at ebn.benefitnews.com, keywords "benefit success series." Learn more about how to submit your company as a candidate for the series at the end of this article.

Considering that SHPS is a leading provider of health management solutions, it was a bit ironic that the company lacked a robust wellness program for its own employees. That all changed last year when the company's HR team crafted and launched "Health Happens Here," a program focused on nutrition, fitness and stress management.

The program is designed to integrate good habits into SHPS' work environment on a daily basis and foster a culture of healthy lifestyles and decision-making within the company's infrastructure. It also challenges employees to take ownership of their health while also encouraging them that change is possible.

For the past three years, SHPS has provided its roughly 2,000 employees with online wellness programs to help with smoking cessation and weight management. And in 2009, it sponsored a companywide walking challenge. However, these programs were promoted separately and for brief periods of time, such as during annual benefits enrollment.

After receiving positive feedback from employees about the walking challenge, marketing and HR executives decided to initiate a full-scale, year-round program complete with onsite wellness and education activities.

Health Happens Here focuses on three main areas:

1. Nutrition - addressing eating behaviors while educating on calorie intake, portion size and food labeling.

2. Fitness - improving associates' habits and behaviors regarding physical activity.

3. Stress management - address how employees react to stress and how to improve their stress management techniques.

SHPS, headquartered in Louisville, Ky., with offices in Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Seattle, promoted "Health Happens Here" through various activities that reshaped the company's mind-set and culture. It started with a farm-to-table program in June 2010 that brought together area farmers with consumers, schools, restaurants and workplaces.

Then, onsite cafeteria renovations removed fatty foods from the menu, and a vending overhaul reduced prices for bottled water and yanked unhealthy selections. A local chef was brought in to do onsite cooking demonstrations using products from the farmers market, and a healthy cookbook was given to employees as a holiday gift. To encourage physical activity, SHPS developed walking paths near office locations.

Lastly, SHPS conducted various challenges to measure how employees were taking to the program. The initial results were positive: 269 employees participated in a fitness challenge that included tracking pedometer steps and exercise minutes. Participants lost a total of nearly 900 pounds and averaged more than 355,000 steps.

Melissa Mudd, a marketing specialist for SHPS, was one of the employees who benefited from the company's dedication to wellness. "This program has helped me become accountable for my actions," Mudd says.

Debbie Perry, a nurse who has worked in SHPS' Seattle office since 1997, always has considered herself physically active and athletic. Nonetheless, she admits to not being as diligent as she could be when it comes to exercise, and credits HHH with helping her focus. In addition, she's picked up valuable dietary habits.

"I now know the importance of eating small meals throughout the day and incorporating lots of veggies, fruit, lean meats and low-fat dairy," Perry says. "My previous eating habits were to basically eat nothing for breakfast, eat very little throughout the day and then pig out after dinner. Now that I am eating more often, my body actually desires the healthy foods, and I feel my metabolism has been kick started."

SHPS monitors HHH participation and satisfaction levels through an intranet website, blog reports and surveys. The HHH website is updated bi-monthly and features links to healthy recipes, media reports and a "Coaches Corner" section, which has suggestions, for example, on how individuals could watch their calorie intake over the holidays.

While employee success stories like Mudd's and Perry's are gratifying, SHPS officials also are pleased with the return on investment numbers HHH has yielded in such a short time. SHPS has recorded a cumulative body mass index reduction of nearly 800 points, which translates to a health care cost-savings of $202.30 per point. Estimated one-year medical and pharmaceutical claims savings is $161,113, while the cost of the program has been $32,850.

J.C. Gibson, executive vice president at SHPS, attributes the success of the program to the HR and marketing departments, particularly HR manager Allison Kohler. The marketing department is responsible for the overall plan, including wellness strategies and communication tactics, he explains. They also promote all programs, challenges and activities and manage the online content. The human resource department monitors the needs and interest of the employees and reviews activity requests. In addition, wellness ambassadors are assigned to each office location. Gibson describes these workers as "our head cheerleaders and role models."

It's this structure, geared toward coworker camaraderie, that has made HHH so popular among employees.

Participation extends throughout all levels of the company, which adds to the program's success. CEO Rishabh Mehrotra has participated in cooking demonstrations, and CFO Brad Wear serves on one of the wellness committees. Executives also have created their own team to participate in fitness challenges.

Four employees decided together to make a six-month public commitment to changing their unhealthy behaviors and documenting their progress with video-cameras and online journaling. They shared their stories, barriers, struggles and person health information, and also participated in all company challenges related to fitness, nutrition and stress management.

At first, not all of the changes made by SHPS were openly accepted by the employees, Gibson says. For example, many were not pleased when the cafeterias stopped serving French fries and other fried foods. "We didn't feel it was enough to offer healthy lunch options - we wanted to remove bad food choices," Gibson says. "We had to have conviction in our decision, although it wasn't a popular one."

Chris Silva, a former EBN associate editor, is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. To submit your company as a candidate for EBN's year-long BeneFIT Success series, email Editor-in-Chief Kelley M. Butler at kelley.butler@sourcemedia.com.

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