By Molly Gosselink on Monday, June 3, 2019

Try these award-winning ideas at your workplace

Iowa’s current unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the nation, so competition for employees is real. A supportive, healthy workplace culture can be an attractive benefit for retaining employees and recruiting new ones.

Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospitals and Clinics in West Union and POET Biorefining in Hanlontown were both honored at the 2019 Healthiest State Annual Awards for their efforts to make the healthy choice the easy choice for employees.

RELATED: Read more blogs about workplace wellness

Kelly Hansen from POET and Melanie Martin and Maggie Gardner from Gundersen Palmer shared some of their award-winning practices with attendees at the 2019 Healthiest State Initiative Annual Conference on May 14. 

Here are 9 ideas to try:

1. Start by surveying your staff

When Gundersen Palmer launched their wellness program, they surveyed the staff to see what their interests were. This can help guide your  programming to ensure high engagement and participation among employees.

2. Offer healthy food at meetings

Do you usually order pizza for staff meetings? Healthy food options can be hard to come by at the POET Biorefining's rural Hanlontown location, but when the business caters in meals, they make ordering healthy options a priority.

3. Evaluate vending and snack options

Gundersen Palmer changed their cafeteria environment by making grab-and-go cooler full of healthy options that were easily accessible. When they made this switch, they saw an increase in healthy option purchases. POET switched up what they offered in their vending machines. They now offer healthy options such as apples and string cheese that employees only have to pay $0.25 for. Soda and unhealthy snack options are no longer sold on-site.

GET INVOLVED: Sign-up as a 5-2-1-0 Registered Workplace


Maggie Gardner and Melanie Martin (Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital and Clinics) and Kelly Hansen (POET-Hanlontown) lead a breakout session at the 2019 Healthiest State Initiative Annual Conference.

4. Create fun physical fitness opportunities

Not all employees enjoy traditional exercise or utilizing a public gym. POET created a company-wide Olympics with fun and active games. Gundersen Palmer hosted a bike ride for staff. Both companies mentioned that including families in physical activity opportunities, when possible, is a bonus.

5. Start an employer-sponsored walking club

Gundersen Palmer employees enjoy getting active by walking with their co-workers. The wellness department worked around shift schedules to determine the best time for the walking club to meet. Instead of getting frustrated if your initial participation rates are low, look for ways to decrease the barriers to participation!

gundersen walk

The employee walking club is a popular wellness program at Gundersen Palmer.

6. Get active in the community

POET Biorefining offers employees the opportunity to volunteer both off- and on-the-clock. Need help getting started with volunteering at your business? Check out the Volunteer Iowa website to find a volunteer opportunity for your workplace.

7. Offer opportunities to access fresh produce

Both POET and Gundersen Palmer provide opportunities for employees to access fresh local produce. POET manages an employee garden and Gundersen Palmer utilizes a shared on-site garden stand.


POET employees plant tomatoes in their on-site employee garden.

8. Rethink your popular traditions

When it came time to collect recipes for the annual cookbook, Gundersen Palmer staff produced a cookbook with healthy alternatives. This is a creative way for everyone to contribute to making the healthy choice the easy choice!

9. Incentives are key!

How are you incentivizing your employees to participate in your wellness programming? POET provided fitness trackers to employees who participated in a steps challenge. Return participation was so high that now employees can choose between a new pair of walking shoes or a new fitness tracker each year.

Learn more about POET and Gundersen Palmer's award-winning wellness programs:

POET Biorefining - Hanlontown was the 2019 Healthiest State Annal Award winner in the Small Workplace category. 

Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital & Clinics in West Union was the 2019 Healthiest State Annal Award winner in the Medium Workplace category.