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May 17, 2007
BLR Takes First Steps to Implementing Wellness Programs

Wellness initiatives can be ingrained as part of a company culture even without a formal wellness mission statement or plan. One small company with 170 employees has had a long tradition of supporting and encouraging its employees to achieve good health by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity.

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Business & Legal Reports, Inc. (BLR,, located in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and publisher of Best Practices in HR as well as other newsletters, books, and training products for HR, safety, and environmental professionals, has reimbursed employees for a portion of their investment in structured physical activities for more than 10 years.

BLR's HR Manager, Amy Champlin, PHR, explains that employees can receive up to half of the cost of any organized physical activity with an instructor, to a maximum annual limit of $256.50 per year per full-time employee. "It can be for YMCA [health club] membership, Curves®, or other health club membership, ballroom dancing, karate, golf lessons, or working with a personal trainer. It can also be used for weight loss-related organizations such as Weight Watchers® or Jenny Craig® memberships."

BLR President and CEO Robert Brady is a fitness enthusiast who works out daily and serves on the board of directors for the Westbrook (CT) YMCA, according to Andrea Maturo, PHR, HR generalist.

BLR's employee demographics are skewed toward an older population, with the average employee age of 46. Sixty-five percent of the employees are women and 35 percent men, notes Maturo. Ten percent of the staff is under age 30, 19 percent between 30 and 40, 30 percent from 40 to 50, and 40 percent over age 50. This information supports the need for employee wellness initiatives since preventive health measures become even more important as employees age.

With rising healthcare benefits costs, many employers are taking a hard look at increasing employee wellness programming. Champlin explains that she attended every wellness-oriented educational session offered at the Society for Human Resources Management national conference last year as part of her research.

BLR is fortunate to have a healthcare benefits broker and an insurance carrier that partner with the company to increase employee health awareness. When BLR wanted to plan an employee health fair in 2006, the broker took the idea and ran with it, says Maturo. "The broker invited vendors that participate in the health plan to participate in the health fair," she explains. She and Champlin provided the promotional efforts for the event, starting with a "Save-the-Date" e-mail, then a flyer, and additional e-mails advertising the event.

Employee Health Fair a Success

The health fair introduced employees to local health providers and other services and provided more information about their healthcare benefits. Some highlights included chair massage (an employee favorite); a "Stress Reduction Through Relaxation" program shared by BLR's outside Employee Assistance Program; ongoing seminars throughout the day on "Self-Care for Caregivers," from Caring Ways Adult Day Care Center; and yoga and acupressure demonstrations. Door prizes were also given away.

In an effort to make more wellness programming available to employees on-site, BLR recently added a noontime Weight Watchers meeting for employees. Maturo explains that the hour-long program features a half-hour of weigh-ins and a half-hour meeting that highlights different topics such as nutrition, support systems, and physical activity. Weight Watchers recently reported that after only 3 weeks after the BLR Weight Watchers meetings began, 22 employees had lost a total of 114 pounds--an average of 38 pounds a week and 5 pounds per person.

Another onsite program soon to appear at BLR is a pilot exercise program in partnership with the Westbrook YMCA. The Y wants to start offering classes for employers at their locations and is testing out the idea with a stretch and tone class that will begin soon at BLR.

As BLR's HR function continues to build its wellness initiative and other employee services, it will probably again be chosen for the third year in a row as a "Best Employer in Connecticut" in 2008, an honor it enjoyed in both 2006 and 2007.

What You Can Do

BLR provides other small employers with an excellent example to follow through its wellness initiatives. "You don't need to spend significant dollars to get into basic wellness programs," Champlin notes. "For example, BLR spent less than one-half of 1 percent of payroll in reimbursement for employees' physical activities last year."

Both Champlin and Maturo suggest that partnering with healthcare providers and insurers and soliciting participation from local vendors can result in an employee health fair event that costs very little to the organization yet informs and entertains staff.

It takes creativity and energy, but a wellness initiative is something that most employers can build into their employee benefits programs.

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