A twelve year HR Professional with a passion for benefits and wellness, I am currently the HR & Benefits Administrator for Sulzer Chemtech USA, Inc. As a leader in the fields of process technology, separation towers, as well as two-component mixing and dispensing systems, Sulzer Chemtech employs around 200 people in the US.
Our wellness program had excellent support from our senior management team who also approved a very generous budget to work with because they knew it would be impactful. Our team started small so we began our health promotion with only a few offerings and who knew that the little things would be so HUGE!
We started with offering fruit at no cost to employees, gym reimbursements, and a walking program. During this first sample of wellness, we did an employee survey to gauge what was important to our employees, and then upon completion, implemented a plan based on the results.
We began providing monthly education sessions on topics such as environmental factors around the home, nutrition information, healthy cooking on a budget, physical fitness, financial wellness, and many other topics. We also added a weight loss challenge, a health fair, and have continued to add small things. Our next big addition was the annual physical requirement which gives a reduced insurance premium.
The most impactful items we have added would be the fruit, walking, and annual physicals. In the first year with just the fruit and walking we had an employee who was extremely overweight. He was excited because by adding more fruit to his diet and beginning a walking routine, he began to feel better and lost approximately 50 pounds. The biggest impact came when we encouraged our employees to see their physicians for a physical. This same employee came back and thanked me for saving his life. If he had not received his physical he might not have caught his cancer in time to treat it. Now he continues to work every day and make sure he makes his yearly physical.
This success story aside, we had to come up with creative ways to get employees to actually visit their physician. A common excuse was ‘I don’t want to use my vacation or sick time for going to the doctor, that’s my time’. Listening to our employees, we created a preventive leave policy that allows them 4 hours per year to attend preventive exams without utilizing their own vacation or sick time. We also arranged a local provider to bring they physicals to them with a mobile clinic in our parking lot during work hours. This only works at our largest site which houses about 70% of our employee population, but 50% of them utilize the onsite mobile clinic. In 2014, we had 100% of our total employee population receive an annual physical.
Multiple individuals have come back and thanked us for encouraging them to lead healthier lifestyles and take more preventive measures. They’ve caught the early onset of chronic diseases and generally feel better in their daily lives.
How can I ask my fellow coworkers to do something that I would not do myself? I “walk the talk” by eating healthy, exercising, seeing my physician regularly, and I love sharing with people on how doing these activities have had an impact on my own live. I’ve even been asked to speak at wellness events in the area to tell people the story of Chemtech’s wellness program as well as help several companies set up their programs. The best advice I can give would be to network with others in your area, attend events, and take in all training opportunities that you can, because there is always something new to learn.
The success of any wellness initiative is directly proportional with how innovative its leadership is. When we first implemented our “biggest loser” challenge, we experienced about a 50% drop off in participation. In talking to our employees, it was discovered that they were losing the desire to participate based on the results they were seeing in other individuals. They quit because they didn’t think they could win. The following year we changed our program to make everyone a “winner” and this sparked their motivation to make a change in their physical activity levels and eating habits. Even when the challenge was over, people were still continuing their regimen because they felt more responsibility to themselves than to a competition.
The biggest threats in the health promotion industry are misconceptions. Being well is not all about eating right and exercising, you have to take care of work, social life, finances, you have to ask yourself are you happy. These are the aspects of wellness that people don’t generally think about. Wellness programs have an inspiring opportunity to make a big change and it is exciting when you can get the right message across. Even in my own organization, it can be a challenge to change these misconceptions, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I will continue to educate myself through trainings, networking, and sharing my experiences with others because I believe the power of people working together will have the greatest impact on changes for the future.