Most employers recognize the importance of health and well-being among employees. The World Health Organization even says health promotion and disease prevention in workplaces can increase employee productivity and lower health care costs. However, few companies take this initiative as seriously as one central Iowa business does.
Businessolver, a benefits technology company based in West Des Moines, is getting its employees moving with an incentive-based program using what are called "Healthy Days."
Here's how Healthy Days work.
Healthy Days - intended to replace the idea of a "sick day" - are extra hours of paid time off an employee can earn by completing different fitness-related goals or challenges. Health Days are earned and awarded in Healthy Day "credits", which are each worth 8 hours of paid time off. An employee can use 3 credits per year (three days of paid time off) and roll over 1 credit to the next year if desired. Here are a few examples of ways employees can earn Healthy Day credits:
- Quarterly Challenges - Once a quarter, Businessolver holds a "Move It To Improve It" challenge, and the activities in each challenge involve some sort of movement. Each challenge is worth .25 Healthy Day credits, with a maximum of 1.0 Healthy Day credits for the calendar year.
- Fed-Up Sugar Challenge - This challenge is essentially a 14-day added sugar hiatus. Participants must go 14 consecutive days without consuming any added sugar, which means the only foods left are basically fresh fruits, fresh veggies, meats with no sauces or condiments, (some) cheeses, few varieties of nuts, and eggs. In addition to the sugarless diet, each member of the 4-person groups must complete a "workout of the day" for 12 of the 14 days. Completing this challenge is worth .5 Health Day credits - or 4 hours of extra paid time off.
- Fourth of July Flag Fitness Challenge - This challenge spans from April 3rd to July 1st each year - a 90-day, 13-week stretch. For each of the 13 weeks (representing 13 stripes on the American flag) the participant must engage in an outdoor physical activity for 60 minutes at least once a week. For 50 of the 90 days (representing the 50 stars on the flag) the participant must eliminate something unhealthy from his or her diet, or add something healthy. This particular challenge is worth .5 Healthy Day credits!
- Thunderstruck Challenge - This challenge is a difficult one, even for the physically fit. Participants must hold a full plank for the entire duration of Thunderstruck by AC/DC - a song nearly 5 minutes long. As if that weren't difficult enough, the challenge also requires participants to do a pushup every time "thunder" or "thunderstruck" is said during the song, tallying up to 34 pushups. This challenge only gets you a t-shirt, but the bragging rights make it worth the effort. See how it's done:
Tracy Orman, Businessolver's on-site Wellness and Fitness Coordinator, says the health and wellness programs at Businessolver all revolve around four key factors: nutrition, activity, hydration and sleep. And though it's difficult to stay disciplined with diet, simply providing better options to employees makes a difference - even with some initial resistance.
"They gave me a lot of crap when I took the Cap'n Crunch out of the cupboards," Orman said.
Though there are self-driven employees in the office, it takes leaders to really make the environment encouraging to all employees. Orman said that the company's CEO is in the gym at some point almost every day he's at the office.
“Being a champion for wellness in the workplace is just good business sense," said Businessolver CEO Jon Shanahan. "We believe strongly that every dollar we’ve invested in wellness programs will be returned - and then some - in the form of healthier, happier, more engaged and more loyal employees. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s relatively simple to get started, regardless of company size.”
"It’s driven from the top down," Orman said. "It’s tough to run a successful program like this if it’s not driven from the top down. When he lives and breathes it, it makes it that much easier for everyone else to get involved."
So why don't more businesses do what Businessolver is doing?
"I think many businesses are afraid of non-participation, because sometimes when I roll something out, I'm thinking, 'Oh, nobody's gonna do this.'" But I figure I gotta try!" Orman said. "I gotta know what works and what doesn't."
Businessolver's approach certainly works for their employees - three of which have lost over 100 lbs during their time with the company - because the company's insurance premiums haven't been raised in two years.
"The biggest thing is she's teaching us how to make those life changes," said Barb Storm, who has lost 100 lbs since starting at Businessolver 5 years ago. "I manage to get up and move during breaks. Taking the stairs helps a lot, and I go for walks during lunch. Just little things like that, along with dietary changes."
Since getting involved at work, Storm has gone on to become involved in her community, as well. She's participated in the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce 5K most recently, and continues to help organize activities locally. This highlights another one of the many benefits of worksite wellness: spreading the passion for healthy living.