July 24, 2014

Best Practices in Wellness

Many of Florida Trend's Best Companies understand the link between employees' health and their productivity.

Cynthia Barnett | 8/1/2009

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[Photo: Florida Today Archive]
LOSING EFFORT: David Holmes has lost 61 pounds and is working to shed another 90. His employer, Infinite Energy, is sponsoring the "Infinite Loser" competition. The winner gets $3,000.

Meet some of the contestants and track their monthly progress here.

On lunch break from his job as a sales team leader for Infinite Energy in Gainesville (No. 16 Large), David Holmes pumps a stair machine at his company’s sprawling gymnasium. Banks of cardio machines feature built-in cable TV, and employees can borrow from a library of CDs, from rock to rap. Infinite has hired a nutritionist/personal trainer who’s at the gym during lunch and after work to help employees with their fitness goals.

Once 376 pounds, Holmes is down to 315. He has his eye on his high school weight of 225. But it’s also on another prize: $3,000 for the Infinite Energy employee who wins the company’s version of “Biggest Loser,” the reality-TV weight-loss competition. The employee who loses the most by October has to keep it off for three more months to get the money. If he doesn’t, the next-biggest loser pockets the cash.

“It’s become a huge competition because so many of us want to win,” says Holmes, 28, who’s worked for Infinite just over two years. “We’re on each other all the time — let’s get focused; let’s get healthy; and oh yeah, let’s sell some gas at the same time.”

Across the state, managers at many of Trend’s best companies are paying more attention to fitness perks for employees. Harrell & Harrell law firm in Jacksonville (No. 5 Midsized) devotes one large room to weights and cardio machines, another to yoga, another to boxing equipment — lawyers can get their aggressions out at lunchtime battering the speed bag or heavy bag. “I believe it makes a big difference if everything about our physical office says, ‘I value you,’ ” says senior partner Bill Harrell.

Indeed, for employees, worksite health programs increase self-esteem as well as stamina, according to the National Association for Health & Fitness. For employers, the New York-based organization reports, such programs increase worker productivity, lower healthcare costs, decrease illness and injuries, reduce absenteeism, and develop leadership skills.

Companies don’t need to build a gym to inspire fitness. Many small and midsized businesses find that subsidizing memberships at a private gym or YMCA works, too. Notary Public Underwriters in Tallahassee (No. 4 Small) subsidizes employee memberships at the Capital Region Y. Benefit Advisors of Ocala (No. 17 Small) reimburses 60% on any gym membership, “but employees have to prove that they actually go,” says human resources director Donna Healy-Strickland.

Infinite Energy’s gym was inspired by one of the company’s founders, Chief Information Officer Rich Blaser, a fitness buff who knew healthier employees would be happier and more productive. But once managers saw how having fitter employees was paying off in lower healthcare costs, they took the programs a step further. Thousands of steps, actually. A walking program sets employees up with pedometers; they win prizes as they meet mileage goals. The company also offers smoking cessation and other wellness programs. Infinite human resources director Allen Waters says the healthier workforce — Infinite employs about 300 — has helped the company keep its self-insurance program that covers 100% of employee health costs. That annual bill is steadily declining, Waters says, while estimates for a fully insured plan showed Infinite would have had to pay 22% more this year alone.

In addition to creating happier workers and cutting medical costs, work-related athletics can help with team-building. Employees who work well together in sports work well together on the job, says Frank Sacco, CEO of Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood (No. 11 Large), one of the largest health systems in the country. On weekends, Sacco suits up in his cycling shorts and jersey to ride with the Team Memorial bike club. The company also has its own marathon, half-marathon and 5K runners club. Calories going in are as important as those burned. Memorial’s “Simply Healthy” program includes low-calorie, nutritious meal choices for employees at subsidized costs. Sea bass lunch? Only $5.

At Tampa-based IT Authorities (No. 1 Small), healthful eating is so important to CEO Jason Caras that he has his personal chef prepare organic lunch for the 20-person staff every day. He says he’d rather foot the bill for wholesome lunches upfront than bear the future healthcare costs of employees who “eat at McDonald’s three or four times a week.”

Back at Infinite, Holmes admits he thinks about Whoppers, but the company’s personal trainer helped him figure out he’d have to spend an hour and a half longer on the stair machine to burn one off. He’ll stick to turkey and provolone on whole-grain bread.

“Even if you don’t win the $3,000, you win something even better — your health,” says Holmes. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

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