The Importance of Workplace Wellness Programs

Long Island Business News
March 20, 2014
The Importance of Workplace Wellness Programs

Featuring: Michael Lettera, Director, Employee Wellness

As a global manufacturer and distributor of vitamins and nutritional supplements, Ronkonkoma-based NBTY Inc. knows a thing or two about wellness. It should come as no surprise that the company, whose mission is to enhance the well-being of its customers globally, maintains a strong focus on employee wellness, as well.

“If we’re going to promote wellness with our customers, we want to encourage our associates to live it inside our walls,” said Karla Packer, senior vice president of human resources. While she concedes the company may see a financial benefit from the implementation of wellness programs – in the form of healthier employees and greater productivity – that’s only one advantage.

“It’s really about how we want to be known in the industry,” Packer said.

Two years ago, the company began scrutinizing its medical plan to determine if it truly encouraged employees to stay healthy. As a result, NBTY initiated a disease-management program, which focuses on employees with diabetes or heart issues and encourages them to maintain treatments and regular check-ups, as well as a Healthy Moms program, to ensure pregnant employees attend wellness visits and focus on nutrition.

Last year, NBTY, which employs 13,000 associates in 11 countries, began offering free biometric screenings to all of its U.S. employees. Intended to track the health of employees and, in turn, help them to improve their overall health, the screenings measure height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.

More than 50 percent of employees participated in the screenings, which were completed onsite by a provider, during work hours, Packer said. As a way to incentivize employees, those who participated were offered a discount on their health premiums.

Also last year, the company organized a Virtual Walk in the hopes of getting all of its associates around the world engaged in wellness. After being issued pedometers and water bottles, employees walked 289 million miles and helped achieve the company’s goal of walking around all of its facilities, Packer said.

In addition to overall corporate wellness programs, each location offers associates free classes onsite, such as kickboxing, kettle bell, yoga, Zumba, boot camp and ballet-burn classes. Globally, NBTY sponsors local marathons and triathlons, Packer said.

Wellness seminars and health fairs are also held at offices around the world. And, as of January 2014, all NBTY facilities, including parking lots, went smoke-free. Associates, who were given 18 months’ notice about the new policy, were offered a free smoking cessation program.

“We really want to keep wellness in front of everyone,” Packer said.

The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System can relate. From offering health risk assessments that generate reports employees can bring to their doctor to biometrics screenings (80 percent of all new employees voluntarily participate to get a snapshot of their key body numbers), the Great Neck-based health system recognizes the importance of giving employees tools they need to live a healthier life, according to Michael Lettera, director of employee wellness.

At any given time, dozens of wellness activities are being held at North Shore-LIJ’s 16 hospitals, such as rooftop yoga classes at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and a Reiki (Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation) demonstration class at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. Earlier this month, each hospital sent a team from its food-service group to participate in the Ultimate Chef Challenge, a healthy meal competition, Lettera said.

“Employees appreciate the fact that the health system is focusing on their wellness,” he said.

As an academic and research institution doing health and wellness-related work in the region, Stony Brook University felt an obligation to provide resources for its faculty and staff, as well. Launched in October 2010, Healthier U was created to serve as a hub of wellness resources and information for all employees of the hospital, university, veteran’s home and numerous offsite offices and physician’s groups.

The university “was good at promoting wellness for everyone else, but there was no one-stop-shopping where employees could go” if, for instance, they were concerned about weight management or heart health, according to Donna Buehler, director of organizational wellness and Healthier U initiatives.

“From the top down, we wanted to stress the importance of health and well-being,” she said. “Our goal is to build a culture of wellness, and to do it together.”

Stony Brook is certainly on its way. Through Healthier U, the university surveyed employees about their wellness needs, and results led to the creation of walking programs, including indoor and outdoor walking route maps, and the Healthier U website, which serves as an information resource center for all university wellness activities. Programming has included nutritional counseling, stress management seminars, health screenings and fitness classes.

In addition to offering area gym membership discounts, the university recently opened an 18,000-square-foot campus recreation center, featuring weights and fitness equipment, which employees (and their spouses) are encouraged to join; a fee structure including payroll deduction and monthly fees was developed, Buehler said.

To take the next steps in its development, Healthier U has created committees for strategic planning, programming, budget, marketing and website development. Additionally, an employee ambassador program is being developed to help publicize Healthier U throughout the institution. Ultimately, the vision of Healthier U is to become a nationally recognized model as a health and wellness-driven university community that is committed to its employees’ well-being.

“We want to be seen as one large campus embracing wellness that’s accessible for all,” Buehler said.

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