POSTED ON MARCH 14, 2012:
Workplace focus on employee wellness goes a long way
Health and wellness coach Eric Moon really hates the reality television show, The Biggest Loser. Normal, everyday people "don't have personal chefs, personal trainers, all day to do it at some fitness ranch. And [about 90 percent] of them relapse," said Moon, a former teacher and running coach turned The Holmes Organisation fitness cheerleader.
"You know, it's a terrible concept," he said. "And all the people who need to be losing weight are sitting there watching TV."
"And eating pizza," our UTW photography intern Landon Smothers chimed in, chuckling.
"Exactly," Moon said. "I tell people, 'Don't just watch a success story on TV, be one.'"
Moon walks with a quick stride, a man probably more at ease in gym gear than a suit and tie. He showed us around The Holmes Organisation's offices on the tenth floor of the International Plaza building, 1350 S. Boulder Ave. The offices are quiet, clean, with smiling employees and, get this, a fruit-stocked break room.
No humming machine filled with Doritos and donuts. Instead, Moon brings in crates of fresh fruits. "The bananas go first, if they're ripe," he said. Then the berries go. But the biggest hit in the break room since Moon started with the insurance and risk management company a little more than three years ago is the hot oatmeal.
Moon plugs in a crockpot filled with simmering, creamy oatmeal and offers toppings like brown sugar and M&M's "to trick 'em into eating oatmeal," he laughed.
The Holmes Organisation is also stocked with all manner of up-to-the-minute electronic devices for monitoring and encouraging health. Moon showed off an electronic water bottle that keeps track of how much water you drink and a pedometer that can upload data to a computer through a Bluetooth connection.
Moon is a former journalist, teacher and running coach who began working at Holmes three years ago. He still likes to think of himself as a coach, and he's proud of employees' progress and the tools they're using to get there.
At Holmes, a kiosk for weigh-ins and blood pressure readings is tucked inside a few private cubicle walls. If an employee loses weight, they get an incentive check each quarter.
A corner office became a comfy relaxation room with two massage chairs, dim lighting, magazines, a big-screen TV and Wii. Another cubicle is outfitted with a biometric scale, books, a computer for uploading pedometer, weight and fitness data, and even a thermometer. Plus, this is where they keep track of their contest challenges.
Cara Mohler, a Holmes Organisation senior customer service representative, said she loved the walking challenge best. She pointed out the pedometer she wears clipped to her black pants.
For their walking challenge, Moon had all the employees pick out an American destination they wanted to visit. Then, they figured out how many miles it would take to walk there. With pedometers revving, employees like Mohler set about walking to their goal destination. Mohler's was New York City.
Once she reached her goal, Holmes helped pay for her to take a trip there with her husband. She wore her pedometer as she took in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. "Here was our Central Park day," Mohler said, as she pointed out the 23 miles she logged (and then uploaded to the work computer system after she got back).
She also credited Moon with helping her stay on track. "He gets excited or gives encouragement and is always there, however much I need him," Mohler said.
Since she's been working with the Holmes wellness program, Mohler has accomplished her fitness goals. "To be healthy, strong, and be able to lift things," she said.
For American companies, wellness programs like these may sound hippy-dippy but the numbers are quite the opposite. National studies confirm that programs like the one being implemented at Holmes saves big bucks in the long run.
According to the National Prevention Council, medical costs are reduced by approximately $3.27 for every dollar spent on employee wellness programs. The council also found that annual health care costs are $2,000 higher for smokers, $1,400 higher for people who are obese, and $6,600 higher for those who have diabetes than for nonsmokers and those who are not diabetic or obese.
Making small changes, like counting your steps with a pedometer, drinking more water and making smart choices can really add up. The National Prevention Council also found that reducing average population sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day could save $18 billion in health care costs every year.
Insurance, health and well-being are out of whack, Moon said. "The healthies pay for the sicks," he said. But there are fewer healthy people, while many more are sick and unhealthy.
"Eighty-three percent of Tulsans think they're healthy," Moon said.
Oklahoma has a deep-fried culture and a penchant for denial. But Moon sees a way forward. "Behavior change, culture change, as a population we have done it [with] littering, seatbelt use, even scooping your pet's business," Moon said.
"Ironically, obesity is currently the greatest threat to our American way of life because it is the American way of life," he said.
And with weight gain comes diabetes, along with other health problems and risks. On average, diabetes is four times more expensive to a company's health plan than smoking. One in 10 Americans has a form of diabetes. By 2030, one in three will, Moon said.
While The Holmes Organisation is saving money through its wellness program, the company is also building a healthier, happier, more dedicated workforce. "A company who cares about its employees has employees who care about their company," Moon said.
National studies seem to bear out this claim. In 2010, a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group showed that organizations with "highly effective wellness programs" had a lower rate of attrition (9 percent) than places with an ineffective program (15 percent), as reported in the Harvard Business Review. The journal also stated the Biltmore tourism enterprise had seen their voluntary turnover rate drop from 19 percent in 2005 to four percent in 2009 after starting up a wellness program.
"Companies always say their most valuable resource is their people. Wellness is the best way to invest in people," Moon said. "Look at standard company balance sheets. The two top expenditures are payroll and health care -- not building materials, copy paper or technology. Those are people categories."
Through proactive attention, Moon feels he is participating in a modern version of the teaching a man to fish parable. Moon is out there, busily promoting healthy weight loss and good habits so that employees can fish -- or rather, stay well and be well -- for a lifetime.
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