When I visited my brother and his family near Charlotte, NC, this spring, he was wearing a pedometer everywhere he went, including Edgewater Golf Club with me on a beautiful Good Friday. It recorded the thousands of steps he took, many in the woods looking for my Titleist.
He wasn’t doing it simply for curiosity’s sake. It was part of an incentive program offered by his employer, Bank of America. Groups of employees and their family members formed teams of 8 to 11 people and were eligible to win Amazon gift cards, Fitbit Zips or donations to Habitat for Humanity. To win, they had to clock 56,000 steps in at least four of eight weeks or do 140 minutes of exercise in at least four of eight weeks.
So far in 2014, bank employees have walked more than 21 billion steps, lost more than 66,000 lbs. and done more than 1.5-million hours of exercise. Granted, Bank of America has a lot of employees – known as associates in bank-ese – but those are still some impressive numbers.
It’s not just large American financial institutions, however, that are interested in the health of their employees. As I wrote about in the August issue of Business London magazine, lots of London organizations have adopted employee wellness programs, many of them with the help of EWSN, the Employee Wellness Solutions Network. Owned by husband and wife Garth and Meaghan Jansen, it sets up all kinds of programs, activities and challenges for its clients’ employees.
Whether it’s personal fitness programs, support to help quit smoking or lunchtime talks about healthy cooking, EWSN consultants try to provide whatever information and assistance people want.
Of course, not everyone at any given organization is interested in having management force-feed them fitness information and activities. At London Hydro, for example, the participation rate hovers around 30 per cent of the 300 employees. But London Hydro manager of health and safety Jeff Harrison is encouraged by that number and has seen noticeable benefits since the program began as a pilot project in 2008.
Not everything can be measured, so proponents of such programs rely on anecdotal evidence and common sense to make the case that a healthier work force is more productive and creative. One thing that can be measured is health claims. Across the board, it seems organizations that engage in a well-designed, well-implemented wellness program reduce the medical claims of their workforce.
In the U.S., where private health care costs are a significant cost for employers, that’s a big deal. Bank of America told its employees that health benefit costs in 2015 will not increase, breaking a trend of the last few years, largely because of the fitness challenge.
London Hydro has also seen a drop in health claims from a healthier workforce since it began its program.
As Garth Jansen told me, skeptics can always poke holes in any evidence supporters of such programs offer. There are simply too many variables that could account for changes in performance in a company. But years of evidence at numerous organizations has convinced him it makes a real difference in the lives of employees. It certainly is popular with many of those who participate.
The gym at law firm Harrison Pensa is used every single day, weekends included. And Harrison says he can’t imagine Hydro ever walking away from the program. It’s simply too popular among employees.