Want to see health premiums go down and employee morale go up? Your workplace could probably use a health kick.
With our general “laissez les bons temps rouler” attitude — demonstrated frequently by our love of unhealthy, but incredibly tasty, foods, festivals and just generally having a good time — it’s not surprising that Louisiana is not exactly the healthiest state in the country.
But dead last?
That’s how we ranked in 2015 in America’s Health Rankings, a comprehensive report provided by the United Health Foundation on each state’s citizens. The latest report for 2016 put us only a hair better at 49 out of 50, with Mississippi claiming the last spot.
While the ranking takes into account a long list of factors including things like environment, policy and clinical care, since the report started in 1990, obesity nationwide has increased 157 percent. Last year was the first year in the report’s history that cardiac deaths increased — from 250.8 per 100,000 people to 251.7.
Unhealthier people translates to unhealthier employees, which means higher health insurance rates for employers and individuals.
Workers in some states contribute a greater portion of their paycheck toward their premiums. According to a 2015 survey by The Commonwealth Fund, workers in Louisiana are among the hardest hit, with the state ranking the eighth highest in the country for average employee contribution.
What can businesses do?
It’s obvious that both businesses and employees would like to see lower health costs, but is that really possible? And if so, what can you do?
30 Heads are Better Than One
Todd Murphy, president of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, says these are the exact issues that the new Chamber Healthcare Council has been tackling since they began meeting late last year.
On May 10, the council awarded the chamber’s first Healthy Business Awards at its annual business award luncheon to two companies; recognizing Metairie-based Delta Personnel as healthiest medium-sized business and Laitram as healthiest large business.
“The idea is first to recognize those companies that are really doing a great job with workplace wellness,” says Murphy, “and then connect the dots — help particularly smaller business owners, which make up a majority of our chamber, to see what things they can be doing.”
Murphy credits the development of the new council largely to Donna Austin, director of decision support for People’s Health Network, who serves as the council’s chair.
“When things started changing with the ACA and we were all trying to understand it, the thought turned to how can we do things locally to enhance our community by helping to educate businesses on changes and how they would benefit from a healthier workplace,” Austin says. “I started speaking to people in my industry and now we have at least 20 people, sometimes closer to 30, meeting every other month to share ideas.”
Included on the council are members from companies in the healthcare field, like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, LCMC, the American Heart Association and the Smoking Cessation Trust, along with other local employers like Entergy.
Austin says the council is still very much in its infancy, but the response to interest in the committee has been overwhelmingly positive. “Now we just need to get the word out to those not in the industry and get them excited,” she says.
Austin says the education part of the plan could include efforts like blast emails to members explaining industry changes or possibly webinars. “We want to make sure all the chamber’s events touch on fitness or wellness in some way going forward,” she says, adding that one of the ideas is to include a health fair component to the chamber’s largest annual community event, Tour de Jefferson, a fall bike-riding event.
“We want to make sure businesses know about the great resources that are free to them, like Well Spot from the Louisiana Department of Health and wellness programs from providers like Humana,” she says. “And we’re excited to be looking into partnerships around the community.”
Healthy Workplace Best Practices: Delta Personnel
Winner of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Healthy Business Award 2017
Medium business category
In addition to the possibility of lower insurance premiums, the Chamber Healthcare Council says a healthier workplace can mean less absenteeism, higher productivity, a better work environment and therefore a higher rate of employee retention.
Both of this year’s Healthy Business Award winners say they have experienced the benefits first-hand.
For Delta Personnel, a staffing company that includes 10 employees, it only took one health enthusiast employee to get everyone moving.
“That would be Angela Mitchell; we call her ‘coach,’” says Nicole Vallotton, recruiter for Delta Personnel. “Less than a year ago she convinced me to start doing these little breakout workouts three times a day. Then our operations manager started joining us, and now everybody does it.”
For five to 10 minutes three times a day, Delta’s staff gathers to do a range of activities together that are led by Mitchell. “She changes up the workouts every week, but we do things like jumping rope, squats, planks, yoga and weights.”
Vallotton says the breaks have had multiple benefits. “They give us energy and something to look forward to,” she says. They’ve also brought employees closer. “We text each other sometimes outside of work to share how we’ve just gone on a run or done something healthy. We share inspirational quotes on the workout board and we each have goals and are supporting each other to reach them.”
Delta’s commitment to a healthy workplace reaches beyond its mini breakouts. “We have annual wellness checkups, we’ve even had someone out to check the ergonomics of our offices, and a few times a year the company brings in a masseuse and we all get 15-minute massages,” says Vallotton.
The buy-in from the top is evident at Delta. “Our owner, Theresa Lawrence, is a very active woman and she has always encouraged us. She even sponsors everyone each year for the Susan G. Komen race,” Vallotton says. “And our VP does our grocery shopping — he’s always stocking the fridge with healthy snacks. It’s definitely a great place to work.”
Delta Personnel employees get moving three times a day with scheduled, voluntary, five-to-10-minute workouts.
Healthy Workplace Best Practices: Laitram
Winner of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Healthy Business Award 2017
Large business category
For a giant like Laitram, which employs 1,400 people at its 1-million-square-foot campus in Harahan and over 2,000 worldwide, the drive toward increasing wellness was motivated by ever-increasing healthcare costs.
“In 2010 we realized that we had seen employee premiums go up by over 40 percent in six years,” says Frank LaBiche Jr., human resources director at Laitram, a company that is self-insured. “We realized that was unsustainable and that we had to do something.”
Laitram already had what LaBiche calls a passive wellness program. “There was no engagement and no accountability,” he says. “So we looked into a lot of options that would help to really change behavior.”
The company opened its own 10,000-square-foot fitness center complete with a registered dietitian and personal trainer. “It’s open 24/7 and we have about 600 members,” he says, noting that the company decided to charge a fee for gym membership. “It’s $7 a paycheck,” he says. “We did that because studies show that when people have to pay something it can drive them to go.”
Laitram also has its own on-site health clinic, where employees and their families (age 6 and older) are served by two nurse practitioners and a medical assistant.
“Many of our employees are hourly and this means that they don’t have to take time off of work to go see a doctor,” LaBiche says. “They stay on the clock and are seen at their appointment time. There is no waiting room per se. The longest they’re ever away is half an hour.”
In the past five years, Laitram has saved an estimated $8 million thanks to the health clinic.
The company saw insurance premiums go flat from 2011 to 2014. In the past three years, LaBiche says, they are up roughly 13 percent.
Employees are seeing a change in their bottom line as well. “For those that participate in annual biometrics, a biannual health coaching session and online assessment, individuals under our plan receive a discount on their premium of $30 a month,” LaBiche says. “For individual-plus-spouse plans, that goes to $60 a month. I’m happy to say we have a 90 percent or higher participation rate.”
LaBiche says the changes Laitram has made also help with recruiting new employees. “When people see our health clinic and fitness center it blows their mind,” he says. “To them it becomes evident that we really care about our employees.”
A peek inside Laitram’s 10,000-square-foot onsite fitness center.
You Got THAT from a Vending Machine?
Your Nutrition Delivered’s recent partnerships with Ochsner and Humana aim to make healthy eating on the job, and everywhere, easier than ever.
Created in 2011 by local entrepreneur Erik Frank, a former powerlifting champion who saw the need for healthy food options on the job while working for an insurance company, Your Nutrition Delivered provides fresh, healthy meal and snack options to businesses, hospitals and casinos via micro-markets and vending machines from Refreshment Solutions, the largest vending and micro-market provider in Louisiana.
The company describes micro-markets as “unattended-kiosk-open-cooler systems” with the ability to stock over 300 fresh food items.
“There are currently 45-50 micro-markets in the state and we have about 30 of those,” says Greg Lucia, president of Refreshment Solutions.
“An office break room used to mean stale coffee and honey buns,” says Frank. “But today, with micro-market technology, it can mean a chai tea latte and a Greek salad with chicken and a honey balsamic dressing. Our mission is to make the employee break room the best part about coming to work.”
Geared toward companies with 100 employees or more, Your Nutrition Delivered and Refreshment Solutions’ client list spans from Shreveport to Biloxi and includes East Jefferson General Hospital, Laitram, Hard Rock Casino, Dow St. Charles, Phelps Dunbar, Jones Walker, Margaritaville, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and Ochsner.
About a year and a half ago, Frank began working with Molly Kimball, registered dietitian with Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA program, a program that encourages local chefs to create more healthy dining options.
Piloted in 2012 with five restaurants and launched officially in the spring of 2013, the program has grown to also highlight healthy options at concession stands in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and convenience stores with its Ochsner Eat Fit brand.
Frank enlisted Kimball’s help to introduce new healthy vending items. Less than three months ago, Ochsner Eat Fit items were launched in 500 Refreshment Solutions machines, including 100 at Ochsner locations.
“Our Eat Fit choices include a cap on calories, sodium and saturated fat,” says Kimball. “We take the American Heart Association guidelines even further and all items are low on added sugar. We don’t use any white carbs at all.”
By the end of this year, all 2,500 Refreshment Solutions snack machines will include a goal of at least 25 percent Eat Fit options.
“Some of the Eat Fit options we’ve put into snack machines include hummus cups with cubes of grilled chicken, black bean- and white bean-based chips, high protein bars and Chobani Greek yogurt,” says Kimball.
Your Nutrition Delivered and Refreshment Solutions are also working with Humana as part of the insurance company’s Bold Goal — to make select communities 20 percent healthier by 2020.
“We’re using micro-market technology to run pilot programs in order to understand what it takes to get consumers to make healthy purchasing decisions,” says Frank, who notes the first pilot program is taking place now at Laitram and Harrah’s Biloxi.
At these locations, employees targeted as pre-diabetic use a payroll deduction program to purchase food from micro-market machines stocked with healthy options. If they make a set amount of healthy purchases, their company will reimburse them for part of the cost of the food they’ve purchased.
“For instance, if someone buys five salads and three Eat Fit snacks in a week, a company may say they’ll reimburse 50 percent of the cost and the employee will also get reward points toward something like a Fitbit or Ninja blender,” Frank says. “Other incentives could include things like added vacation time or some form of recognition. Our plan is to add more companies as time goes on and run pilots through 2020 to see what really motivates people.”
Erik Frank, CEO of Your Nutrition Delivered, called on Molly Kimball, registered dietitian with Ochsner’s Eat Fit NOLA program, to suggest more healthy vending options.
Did You Know?
Get Up, Stand Up
You don’t have to run, or even walk, to gain benefits.
We all know that sitting too much is bad for you, but what exactly should you be doing? According to the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study in 2015, replacing time sitting with standing or walking can have cardiovascular health benefits.
Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends sitting for no more than 20 minutes at a time, then standing for eight minutes and moving around for two.
Maybe try a standing desk? Or at least make sure things you commonly need are out of arm’s reach.
To Do List
10 Workplace Wellness Ideas for Any Company Size and Budget
Instead of meeting with someone in your office, how about a walking meeting?
Sign up for a walk or run as a company team.
Do a Fitbit Challenge — the employer could purchase Fitbits and sell them to employees for half the cost (providing an incentive and the feel of a buy-in). Then challenge everyone to 10,000 steps a day.
Host a “Biggest Loser” style competition — maybe go off of percentage of weight lost, not hard numbers.
Have stairs in your building? Encourage stair climbs.
For catered lunches, think salads and wraps, not pizzas or traditional New Orleans food.
Provide a list of healthy dining options within a few miles of the office. A good source for this is the “Fit NOLA” app, featuring Ochsner’s Eat Fit recommendations.
Provide plenty of water and healthy snacks in the breakroom.
Encourage everyone to set reminders on their phones or computers to get up and stretch and move around.
Host a healthy potluck with recipe exchange.
Free Apps to Try
You can always encourage employees to share their favorites, but here’s a few to get started:
Couch to 5K
Map My Ride
My Fitness Pal
Those with an iPhone, check out the built-in Health Data app (white square with red heart)
Calm — a meditation app compatible with Health Data