In the Workplace Health & Wellness

By Adam Vlach
Photos by Rachel Lock

IN THE PHOTO Front row: Amber Moon, Molly Coplen, Anna Henderson Second Row: Cathy Riedy, Brice Smith, Bob Young, Michelle Shima,Sidney Noble Last row L-R: Mischa McHenry, Kristi Mitchell, Roxann Johnson, Lyle Thiessen, Robin Brower, Danielle Pettit, Ryan Hoskinson, Fai Ng, Jody Broughton

IN THE PHOTO Front row: Amber Moon, Molly Coplen, Anna Henderson Second Row: Cathy Riedy, Brice Smith, Bob Young, Michelle Shima,Sidney Noble Last row L-R: Mischa McHenry, Kristi Mitchell, Roxann Johnson, Lyle Thiessen, Robin Brower, Danielle Pettit, Ryan Hoskinson, Fai Ng, Jody Broughton

From simple cafeteria menu changes, to a code named workplace gym, to escaping zombies, two Topeka-based companies are getting creative as they promote health and wellness among employees.

BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF KANSAS
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s largest health insurance provider, has an entire department dedicated to ensuring its employees stay healthy. Led by Michelle Shima, coordinator of corporate health services and chair of the company’s wellness committee for 2016, a team comprised of a registered nurse, gym instructors and an administrative assistant provide a multitude of opportunities for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“We see employees for health questions, blood pressure checks and different things – just advice on should they go to their doctor, do they need to go to the emergency room,” Shima said. “We also do flu shots in our department.”

[Healthy Environment]
The wellness team coordinates employee health, including programs to help employees be healthier both inside the office and in their everyday lives.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield boasts an employee gym, located in the basement of the building, which is named “Club Blue” and was described as “state-of-the-art” by Mary Beth Chambers, manager of corporate communications.

“It’s very nice,” said Chambers. “Our employees do pay $15 [per month], but they can access the gym during weekends and whenever they want to. It’s a nominal fee, but we feel like if we do charge them, they are more likely to use it.”

The $15 per month gym fee allows employees access not only to exercise equipment, but also to various classes taught by instructors as well.

Fitness classes alternate every quarter and include cycling classes, a Zumba-type class, cardio and strength training classes, yoga, Pilates and relaxation classes. Classes are offered before and after work hours and during lunchtime, Shima said. But with the gym open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, employees can access the gym anytime they feel like burning off some energy or taking a break for a relaxation activity, as long as it’s not on company time.

“It’s a big space, but it seems like it’s getting tighter and tighter,” Shima said. “It’s widely used. We also have shower facilities, so if people do work out during the lunch hour, they can take a quick shower.”

[Health Food Options]
The push for employee wellness reaches beyond the gym at Blue Cross and Blue Shield and into the cafeteria.

“We’ve done a lot of work with our cafeteria to help make items healthier, like now they offer an oatmeal bar in the morning,” Shima said. “They’ve also decreased portion sizes, so if people want a half portion, they’re allowed to purchase a half portion.”

Employees may now also substitute fruit-infused water for tap water. A dietician has been working with Shima’s department to determine the nutritional content of foods. Brochures with the nutritional information of offered foods are available to the employees.

[Healthy Challenges]
In addition, the wellness team offers different programs each year, such as a weight loss and weight maintenance challenge.

“If you’re overweight and you lose a certain percentage, you’ll get rewarded,” Shima said. “Or, if you maintain your weight (if your BMI is under 25), you get rewarded because you’ve maintained that weight.”

To help with these challenges, the wellness team offers employees devices that keep track of how much they exercise or the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat. These trackers, Shima said, encourage employees to exercise 30 minutes a day, five to six days a week, and to eat five to six pieces of fruit or vegetables a day.

This year, a dietician will be visiting each department to promote healthier eating, whether that be finding alternatives to food as rewards or coming up with healthier food options to serve at group functions.

[Healthy Focus]
Chambers said the reasons behind Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas’ dedication to its employees’ health are simple.

“As a health insurance company, we’ve always known we can’t be out encouraging the customers who buy our products to live healthier, or the employer groups who buy our insurance to encourage their employers to be healthier, if we’re not willing to do it for our own employees,” Chamber said. “We wanted to walk the talk.”

Chambers added, “There’s also the aspect of productivity. If we have a healthier workforce, then they’re going to be at work more. There’s going to be less absences from sickness, and the amount of work that we can do to serve our customers will be able to be increased. Obviously, we want to do the best job we can to serve our customers.”

Lora Carlson, Kathy Smith and Keith Love, Title Midwest

Lora Carlson, Kathy Smith and Keith Love, Title Midwest

TITLE MIDWEST
You don’t have to be a health insurance company to promote wellness though, and Topeka-based Title Midwest, a title and closing services company and parent company to eight title companies across the Midwest, proves that by doing what it takes to keep its employees healthy and happy, even if it means eluding the walking dead.

As marketing and communications for Title Midwest, Kathy Smith works to facilitate the wellness program across all 60 offices throughout the Midwest. \

[Wellness: More than a Game]
Smith said the company is in the middle of a fun walking challenge developed by people who used to be involved in the video game industry. The goal of this challenge is for employees to walk enough steps each day to stay ahead of the “zombies” that are chasing them.

“It’s more than just walking,” Smith said. “You’re being chased by zombies and trying to get away from them, and there’s all these little challenges that you can do all day that are quick and short that get you moving around instead of being stuck at your desk.”

Employees take on the zombie challenge in teams comprised of employees from different offices across the region—something Smith said was great in helping people get to know each other.

Team members track their steps each day with either a Fitbit or a pedometer provided by the company. Teams move forward to virtual destinations each day depending on the number of steps they walked in total. If a team doesn’t make enough progress, well…

“You can be caught by zombies,” Smith said. “Some people want to be caught because, if you’re caught, your steps actually make the zombies go faster, and you can catch your other employee friends. That’s a little bit evil, but it’s funny.”

Title Midwest has hosted other walking challenges in the past as well as a “Biggest Loser” competition, which rewards employees who lose the most weight in a set amount of time. In addition, the company offers on-site biometrics screenings that created an opportunity for health coaching for employees.

[Wellness: Body and Mind]
In addition to a strong emphasis on physical health, Title Midwest recognizes the importance of maintaining employees’ positive mental health.

“There are several things for morale building,” Smith said. “This [zombie] competition has done a lot of that, because it’s just fun and silly, and people are having a good time with it. Something else that we offer every year, each employee is given two days paid to do community service. They can choose where they go and what they do.”

Giving employees the option to give back to a cause that they choose and love is good for morale and spirit, Smith said.

“Part of our company culture statement is to be healthy and have fun, and I think that if you are enjoying things as part of your workday, you tend to be a happier person and you tend be a happier employee, so we’re constantly looking for ways to bring about a pleasant work atmosphere and something people look forward to coming to work each day,” Smith said.

Whether it’s through a gym, onsite dietitians, paid time off to volunteer or taking part in challenges involving invisible zombies, successful companies show that promoting employee health is imperative, and even fun. TK

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