Anderson said her company sees its program as a way to reduce the use of paid sick days and know it pays for itself.

Encouraging Wellness for Fun & Profit

Anderson Performance Improvement runs its own wellness incentive program as well as programs for clients. The benefits are obvious for all concerned, CEO and President Louise Anderson says.

Taking a fun, team-oriented approach to wellness among its own employees proved to be a winning strategy for Anderson Performance Improvement, a 16-year-old incentive company that won a 2010 Circle of Excellence Award from the Incentive Marketing Association for its 2009 program. The program focused on healthy diet and exercise as a way to address weight loss, smoking, and health risk factors such as hypertension, said Louise Anderson, CEO and president of the Hastings, Minn.-based company, which has about 100 employees.

She said the company submits one or two entries annually in this award program and won one in 2005; Anderson Performance Improvement initially submitted client cases but wanted to be as proactive as its clients, so the decision was made to enter its own program results, too, she explained. The 2010 award is significant because this award program had not recognized anyone for a wellness incentive until then, Anderson said.

The team concept is essential to the success achieved this far, and individual results are not being shared, she said. "It's not so much about weight loss, it's about doing the right things every day. It's awareness and focus, being aware of the foods you're putting in your body," she added. "You would not believe how many pounds our team lost, cumulatively. We've lost a lot of inches because we're walking more, we're exercising more. It's interesting; different things motivate different people. By having the awards, having them see how good people look, it's been really fun to see the changes and see who jumped on the bandwagon, so to speak."

Wellness incentives are highly popular these days. Three Anderson Performance Improvement clients currently offer them as part of their rewards and recognition corporate programs, she said. All three have thousands of employees; one of the clients is an online brokerage firm, another is a manufacturer, and the third is an insurance underwriting firm.

The underwriting firm is using a traditional formula and started by taking a "snapshot" of its current costs for diabetes and hypertension, which caused leaders of the firm to strongly consider a weight reduction program. But because a small focus group of employees showed the workforce would be reluctant, the firm at this point is inviting employees to participate voluntarily, Anderson said.

The manufacturing client operates 14 locations. At the locations where champions are actively engaging co-workers and groups to take part, its program is working well. "They perceive that it's impacting their safety metrics. They know it's impacting their back injuries. It's really interesting to see," said Anderson. This client awards points to all employees for healthy behaviors, using the Anderson Enterprise Incentive Solution online rewards platform that clients have been using since 1997. First used to boost sales productivity, this tool was expanded in 2000 with behavior-based incentives and employee recognition elements.

Anderson said her company's mission is using technology to ease customers' ability to deploy incentives and to use rewards and recognition for targeted behavior. "That's really what drove me to start the business," she said, "Because if you can reward and recognize for the behaviors, you're definitely going to hit your end goals. Technology's made it a lot easier to track what's happening and easier for everybody to reward and recognize for behavior, if that's what the organization wants to do. It fits right in with wellness, as well."

Going Back to the Playground
Helping Anderson Performance Improvement and its employees to get the most out their wellness program is a Carlsbad, Calif.-based company named Sonic Boom Wellness Inc. that basically tries to make wellness viral among the employees of its clients.

Participants take part in walking meetings, where they conduct a meeting while the group walks around the building. Sitting against the wall in a meeting or conducting a standing meeting with exercises included will earn points. "Or parking furthest away, which I challenge everyone to do, and then I periodically walk around and put scratch-and-win cards on the windshields," Anderson said.

She said employees' swimming, running, walking, and other activities show up in the tracking charts. They also earn points through the Challenge-of-the-Day and other contests, including Weight-Loss Warriors for teams or individuals. Sonic Striding equips participants with small pedometers that wirelessly upload their activity constantly -- steps taken, distance covered, calories burned -- to receivers placed throughout the company's facilities, including remote locations. A participant earns points for being recognized by someone else for doing something healthy.

Global contests are offered for entire companies, but a new program from Sonic Boom Wellness named Joust will allow participants to create their own automated contests, said Danna Korn, the enthusiastic CEO and co-founder of Sonic Boom Wellness, which has been in business for about three years.

Korn said using Sonic Boom's programs is like being back on a school playground again: Participants work with their buddies, friendly rivalries develop, and social networking moves into high gear. "Wacky wellness works. We have them thinking like kids again," Korn said. "We make it fun so it's sticky, it's engaging. It's a perfect wellness program."

Anderson Performance Improvement runs six-month heats that are individual, group, or family challenges, having started its wellness program in September 2007. Anderson said employees have redeemed their points for rewards such as a treadmill incorporating a workstation, gourmet coffee machines, living room furniture, jewelry (one chose diamond earrings, another a pearl necklace), large-screen TVs, and home electronics. The company offered a family golf outing in addition to the prizes.

She said her company has not calculated its return on investment in terms of dollars and cents saved. Instead, they see it as a way to reduce the use of paid sick days and know it pays for itself. "We have a client that doesn't do ROI on its recognition/wellness program on which they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said. "They just know they're benefiting from have satisfied, healthy employees. We looked at all the indicators and decided we wouldn't put a dollar value to them. They were all more positive."

"Due to the awareness, we don't have ice cream and cake any more for birthday parties. We don't have doughnuts for our weekly meetings," she explained. "We have yogurt, and fruit, and granola. Instead of having a basket full of candy at Halloween, we had a nice variety of fruit."

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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