MAY 18, 2012 8:50 a.m. (1)
When Robyn Knox joined Southern Weaving as vice president of human resources in 2007, she saw problems immediately.
The company was experiencing high health insurance renewals, increasing more than 30 percent year after year, she remembered. Also, “there were several employees with serious health conditions; absenteeism and turnover were high; and recoveries from illnesses and injuries were slow.”
Knox and the senior management of Southern Weaving, a Greenville company specializing in industrial woven products, soon agreed: For a company, there is an overall cost of the poor health of its employees. One way to offset that cost is by implementing an employee wellness program.
A little over four years later, the more than 175 employees of Southern Weaving have lost a total of 800 pounds through a Weight Watchers at Work series. A smoking cessation program has helped around 40 of them quit smoking. And the company was able to reduce the cost of medical insurance by 5.5 percent, Knox said.
“We have also seen improved attendance, better productivity, lower turnover, and fewer work-related accidents,” she said. “All of which I believe are related to having a healthier workforce.”
LiveWell Greenville At Work, part of the LiveWell Greenville initiative, wants to help share that success. At their May Wellness Roundtable Luncheon on Monday, May 21, at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, LiveWell at Work will bring Knox together with representatives from three other area companies – T&S Brass, Rosenfeld Einstein and Elliott Davis – that have had similar successes with their employee wellness programs.
The idea is to inspire, motivate, network and share information, said Eleanor Dunlap, lead facilitator at LiveWell Greenville.
Companies like T&S Brass and Southern Weaving “were really shining stars when we had our launch,” Dunlap said. “They stood up and told what they were doing and what their early results were, and there was a really neat buzz in the room – like, if they could do it, we could do it. That’s the kind of spirit that we want to cultivate here.”
“Targeting people at business makes a lot of sense,” said Richard Osborne, consultant to LiveWell Greenville At Work, noting that the workplace is where many adults spend most of their time away from home. “Through businesses, you’ve got that controlled environment, and you’ve got someone to lead the charge – the employer who has a reason for people to have better health.”
Research shows that companies can realize significant financial benefits from an employee wellness program. In 2010, researchers at Texas A&M University, Baylor University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that the return on investment from comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs can be as high as six-to-one, according to Business News Daily.
“Comprehensive” is the key word. “You can’t just go into it and have a day at the lake, or a walking campaign, or a non-smoking poster up in your break room, and call it a wellness program,” said Osborne. “It doesn’t take a whole lot more work, but it has to have that structure to it so that you make sure you’re addressing what you really need to address.”
Larger companies have been exploiting these benefits for years, Osborne said. In 2007, Michelin launched its Choose Well-Live Well program; in the first year, the company realized a return on investment of $7.2 million versus a projected $2.1 million, reported the magazine South Carolina Business.
Now, LiveWell Greenville At Work wants to get mid-sized companies on board. On its website and through its quarterly roundtable discussions, the group is gathering tools and resources to make employers’ jobs easier as they put together their wellness initiatives, Osborne said.
At www.livewellgreenville.org, an employer can download the LiveWell Greenville At Work Toolkit, a step-by-step guide to instituting a wellness program in the workplace. There’s also a link to an online workplace assessment and employee survey.
Employee feedback is crucial, said Osborne. “You can’t just force-feed your employees. What are their interests? What are they going to be most likely to subscribe to?” The survey can provide many of those answers, he said.
Formed three years ago by the Piedmont Health Care Foundation, the LiveWell Greenville coalition’s stated mission is “to make Greenville County a healthier place to live, work and play.” In addition to its workplace wellness initiative, LiveWell Greenville has also worked to provide safe walking and biking areas; healthier foods in schools, workplaces and childcare centers; and better access to parks.
Connecting businesses to existing local resources – and to each other – is the main strength of LiveWell Greenville At Work, said Dunlap.
“Our role is to connect,” she said. “And to foster this motivating environment to continue.”
Tickets to the May Wellness Roundtable Luncheon are $15. For more information, visit www.livewellgreenville.org.
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