Inspired To Lose by Mark Newstadt MD
Inspired by the significant weight loss by a fellow staff member, the administrator of Kaplan Barron Pediatrics suggested that our office initiate a biggest loser contest with a financial incentive. At that time, we did not know that this program would prove to be a successful office wellness model, with improvements at each succeeding phase. Fourteen months ago, the program began, directed by our office administrator with assistance from our lab manager. The office is currently running the sixth phase of this program. Each phase has been a little different in terms of exercise options, points and incentives. We have had teams and individuals competing for the title of biggest loser. Points can be earned for weight loss or maintenance of weight (in those employees with normal BMI) and exercise in and out of the office. Some phases have required monetary contributions and small penalties for weight gain. The exercise option was only incorporated this year. Classes are now led four times a week at noon by our office manager or lab manager. Money has been contributed by individual employees and the physician employers into pools; individuals or teams who have earned the most points through weight control or exercise receive the winning prize. Our office wellness program has been very successful, resulting in significant weight loss in several employees (180 lbs total so far), increased involvement in exercise in and out of the office, improved morale and improved worker productivity. The success of our program has resulted in a reduction in our health insurance premiums. An office wellness program encourages employees to lead healthier and more active lifestyles. More than 80% of businesses in the United States with at least 50 employees offer some type of office wellness program. More than 60% of adult Americans are overweight according to the Centers of Disease Control. They continue to promote office wellness programs as a way to improve health and quality of life for workers while reducing healthcare costs. The Maine Move And Improve program reduced employee inactivity from 50% to 5%. Unhealthy workers cost employers an average of $11,196 per year according to a survey reported in National Real Estate Investing in February 2011. Office wellness programs offer convenient affordable ways to get or stay fit. Programs can vary greatly and be designed according to the needs and interests of the staff. Office wellness programs are not just about diet and exercise. Wellness includes emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. In addition to helping employees meet nutritional and exercise goals, an effective office wellness program should develop camaraderie and help to relieve stress. While employees are not required to participate, incentives may be provided for participation. Allowing employees to have input into the structure of the program as well as the incentives provided will help to make the staff more involved, committed and successful. Strategies encouraging competition and fun games help employees to stay committed to completion. Integral components of office wellness programs may include exercise classes, walking, zumba, jazzercise, gym memberships, nutrition classes, healthier food in the workplace and tobacco cessation classes. Monitoring of weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol may be included. Low fat food tasting sessions can introduce many new tasty options to individuals who had not previously experimented with these. Healthy cooking classes can be hosted to educate employees and families. Other useful options may include utilizing outside speakers periodically to inspire and educate the staff. Barriers should be removed to maximize participation in exercise programs. This may include the provision of shower facilities or flexibility in class schedules. Fitness and nutrition websites or apps such as My Fitness Pal can be used to monitor caloric intake and expenditure accurately. Teamwork and peer pressure provide positive enhancement in wellness programs. People do not want to let their fellow workers down. Team members put positive pressure on each other to succeed and meet weight and exercise goals on both a personal level and as a member of a team. It is important to provide incentives for participation as well as for reaching goals. Not everyone can be a biggest loser, nor reach their goal weight. Incentives such as points, gift cards or prizes can motivate more people to be involved. Establishing the right incentives will motivate employees to be involved in the wellness program and to succeed in reaching their individual and team weight, health goals and fitness goals. According to the Incentive Research Foundation in August 2011, involvement of employees in office wellness programs will increase from 20% to 80% if attractive incentives are provided. Incentives may be comprised of monetary or travel awards, gift cards, fitness clothes or equipment, low calorie recipe books, massages, paid time off, discounts on health insurance or contributions to a Health Savings Fund. Employer surveys may be used to identify the most popular and practical incentives, allowing office wellness programs to be more inclusive and successful. Workers may provide suggestions based on personal experience with smoking cessation, weight control and exercise. For an office wellness program to be successful, the employees’ progress needs to be tracked weekly with results openly visible to all involved so that comparisons can be made with other individuals and team members. Success can be measured by the monitoring of physical measures (blood pressure, pulse, weight, BMI, strength, flexibility and waist circumference), psychological measures (employee satisfaction, morale), and productivity measures (decrease in absenteeism and increase in productivity). In the office of Kaplan Barron Pediatrics, we hope to continue to improve and expand our wellness program while we constantly monitor its success. It is inspiring to see each other become slimmer, more fit and more toned; these changes have led to improved morale in the office. Food served at our office meetings is much healthier and many of our patients and their families have been inspired by our success. In light of the ever-increasing obesity epidemic, especially in the state of Kentucky, it is imperative to provide a workplace that fosters happy, healthy employees by approaching their well-being and satisfaction in a holistic way. A well executed office wellness program is one way to accomplish this essential goal for a successful workplace. Good luck and stay fit!