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Companies offer variety of ways to foster employee health

From Fitbits to 5K training, effort benefits both firm and worker

Companies offer variety of ways to foster employee health

From Fitbits to 5K training, effort benefits both firm and worker

The benefits of wellness can transcend those gained just through exercise and good nutrition.

“When employees are physically and mentally healthy, they’re happier, and more engaged at work,” says Bridget Hallman, Paychex Inc.’s wellness coordinator.

Local businesses, banks and institutions use a variety of means to help their employees have healthier lives—and remain productive at work. Clark Patterson Lee launched CPL Wellness back in 2015.

“The mission of CPL Wellness is to support opportunities that promote a healthy lifestyle and a happy workplace,” says Chief Culture Officer Katherine Metcalfe. Metcalfe also serves on CPL’s Wellness Team, a group of volunteers drawn from the architectural and engineering firm that guides the program.

Katherine Metcalfe, chief culture officer at Clark Patterson Lee
Katherine Metcalfe, chief culture officer at Clark Patterson Lee

One of CPL Wellness’s early goals was to encourage employees to exercise more. Those working there now receive $50 from the firm toward the purchase of Fitbits. They can then use the wearable electronic devices, which measure physical activity, to participate in various contests.

“Every year, we’ve had different types of challenges, like a step challenge or a fitness challenge, based on step counting,” Metcalfe explains. “It’s been very popular.”

Those unwilling to use Fitbits can use their own pedometers, or just count their steps. Individuals and teams vie for prizes—one challenge was for a $50 shopping spree in the company store. The wellness program has also held workshops on healthy cooking and ergonomics.

“We engaged some students from Nazareth College and one of their professors,” Metcalfe says. “They provided a workshop…on…different stretches and things you could do throughout the day to be healthy in the workplace.”

Of the 115 people who work for CPL in the Rochester area, at least 40 attended the last ergonomics presentation, according to Metcalfe. Overall, CPL’s wellness program might be positively affecting the firm.

“We have a really low turnover rate,” Metcalfe says. “I think that wellness, combined with a lot of the other work that we do on culture, is a big part of that.”

The Rochester Institute of Technology’s Better Me Wellness Program also takes a multi-pronged approach to increasing employee health.

“The core of what we focus on in wellness…is a philosophy of being physically active, eating nutritious, real foods, and practicing mindfulness,” says Mike Stojkovic, RIT’s associate director for wellness. “It’s really a journey that lasts your lifetime.”

That journey is expected to confer long-term benefits upon those working at the university, and the institution itself.

“RIT strives to be an employer…known nationally for excellence, which includes a robust benefits package, wellness being an integrative part,” Stojkovic explains.

To that end, the university offers more than 20 classes each week on a wide range of health-oriented subjects. For a nominal fee, faculty and staff can take basic exercise classes, work off the pounds in RIT’s pool, or enjoy other activities.

“We have a real high interest in specialty classes here, like yoga, Pilates, those kinds of things,” Stojkovic says.

The university also offers cooking classes—one on healthy eating during the holidays just ended. Those on its payroll can obtain healthy ingredients from a local food collective, which trucks the foods to the campus every week.

RIT faculty and staff can pay for some of that food—or just gain some cash—by undergoing a biometric screening. A third-party vendor comes to the campus each year to conduct the screenings, which measure blood pressure, blood glucose levels, body mass index and other indicators of an individual’s physical condition. Those who undergo them receive a one-time addition of $100 to their paychecks. About 50 percent of RIT’s 1,607 faculty and staff participated in the November, 2016 screening.

Since RIT began conducting the biometric screenings in 2012, the university has watched the health statuses of those tested change for the better. The improvements could also be helping to slow the growth of RIT’s health insurance costs.

“We have been trending favorably for several years on that front,” Stojkovic asserts.

Though Canandaigua National Bank & Trust had held miscellaneous health-oriented activities prior to 2012, there was a desire for a more formal wellness program. Health$ense was born.

“Our objectives are to help our employees stay healthy, while reducing absenteeism (and) voluntary turnover,” says CNB vice president Shelly Tierson, who was one of the program’s creators and chairs the bank’s Wellness Committee.

The bank also hoped to improve employee morale, the experiences of its customers, and employee productivity.

“The employees would hopefully be more engaged when they’re at work and more productive,” Tierson says.

CNB has followed several paths toward those goals. The bank sponsors a team for the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge, an annual 5K race.

“We partially cover the cost for our employees to participate,” Tierson says.

The subsidy has led more and more of CNB’s employees to suit up for the race, according to Tierson. In 2014, 42 donned their running shoes for the event. By 2016, that group had grown to number 94. Altogether, CNB employs 520 in the Rochester region.

CNB sponsors other wellness activities as well. Those on its payroll who want to drop excess weight can participate in the bank’s annual weight loss challenges—50 employees lost a total of 190 pounds last spring in the “Get Lean in 2017” challenge. Employees can also obtain biometric screenings at work—the bank pays all but a small part of the cost—along with other benefits that can help them become or stay healthy.Kathy Metcalfe

While potentially benefiting CNB’s employees, the wellness program might also be directly helping the bank.

“We are seeing a downward trend in the number of disability claims, and we are seeing a decrease in the number of worker compensation claims,” Tierson explains.

Over at Paychex Inc., the Active Health wellness program is designed with a specific group in mind.

“First and foremost, as a service organization, our employees are our business,” Hallman explains. “They’re key to our company’s success.”

Active Health engages in several types of measures that are designed to help the firm’s employees become or stay healthy—and engaged in their work. Those wanting to stretch their legs were recently able to team up for “Walk the Wonders,” one of the many physical “challenges” that the firm has offered. That activity allowed them to walk—well, sort of—to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru and six other exciting places around the world.

“We walk across the globe to the Seven Wonders—virtually,” Hallman explains.

Team members donned company-provided Fitbits or other devices during the eight-week challenge, or just counted their steps. They then added up the distances they traveled.

“Everyone should, by now, have hit all seven wonders,” Hallman asserts.

According to Hallman, participation in such activities has increased by 57 percent since they became available in 2014. Nearly 40 percent of the 13,500 people Paychex employs nationwide engaged in them this year alone.

Paychex also covers part of the cost of participating in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge, and has even gone so far as to help its employees shoulder the cost of training for the race.

“We offered employees training—a couch-to-5K-program where they could learn to run a 5K,” Hallman says.

Fleet Feet Sports, a retailer that caters to runners, walkers and fitness enthusiasts, offers the training program—and Paychex isn’t the only local company to make use of it. According to Ellen Brenner-Boutillier, the co-owner and CFO of Fleet Feet Sports, five local companies help their employees take such training programs.

“Most times, the company will subsidize part of the fee, so the employee’s out-of-pocket fee is less,” Brenner-Boutillier says.

While traveling around the world, the Rochester area or just around their buildings, Paychex employees could stop in at company cafeterias for nutritious meals.

“We have special labeling for our meals that are designated as ‘fit,’” Hallman says.

Meals so designated have to meet healthy guidelines as to the amounts of sodium, sugar and other elements they have, as well as the calories they offer. Paychex has also offered challenges that focus on stress management and classes on such subjects as retirement planning. Altogether, about 50 percent of those working for Paychex have participated in some part of the Active Health program.

“We find that the wellness program makes our employees feel valued,” Hallman says. “When employees feel valued, they are motivated to do their very best for Paychex.”


Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.