Walk While You Work

One association energizes its employees by offering tread-desks to use during the work day.

What's the great idea? Install treadmill desks in your meeting rooms.

Who's doing it? IEEE

What's involved? Healthcare costs are top of mind for most employers, and having a healthier staff means not only lower costs but also higher productivity. For IEEE, introducing a robust wellness program was a path to smarter spending. "Our top-five prescription expenses are related to chronic diseases that are either preventable, curable, or whose impact can be lessened through a healthier lifestyle. Our long-term goal is to have healthier employees and, in turn, decrease healthcare costs," says Elizabeth Davis, SPHR, staff director of human resources for IEEE.

IEEE's wellness program includes annual biometric screenings, nutrition programs, yoga and Zumba classes, and a walking program where participants receive pedometers and have access to online programs that track progress. The walking program became even easier to participate in when IEEE acquired treadmill desks that employees can reserve for meetings or use when conference rooms are empty.

"I had read about them years ago in The Wall Street Journal, so when Shannon Johnston [SPHR, director, Total Rewards for IEEE] brought the idea of purchasing one for the HR department as a beta test for the company, I was happy to consider it," says Davis.

Davis says the facilities department makes a meeting-room reservation in the same way it always has for the tread-desk conference rooms, and a list of daily meetings are posted outside of the rooms and in elevators. The desks are wired for power and WiFi and only go up to one mile per hour, making it easy to interact without breaking a sweat. Davis says the desks are used multiple times a week for meetings, but they're used even more by individuals who use them for an hour at a time.

What are people saying? Davis says she was surprised at the number of participants who signed up for the walking program, expecting around 300 but ending up with 550 (of approximately 900 staff).

"The biggest success, in my opinion, is the change in attitude with regard to personal health. People are moving more, and their commitment is clear," Davis says. "There have been many substantial weight losses; I lost 45 pounds in 2010, and I'm not the biggest loser. Many people have told me their blood pressure problems have diminished or disappeared. Moreover, there is a boost to creativity with all that additional oxygen moving to the brain."

When it comes to examining your own healthcare costs, Davis says that competitive contracting only goes so far. "Being proactive with a long-term goal is so much more satisfying than being reactive," she says.

Online Extra: Creating the Tread-Desk Wellness Program

Associations Now: What was involved in setting up the program, investing in equipment, and promoting the idea to staff?

Elizabeth Davis, SPHR: Shannon [Johnston, SPHR] led her total-rewards team in a spectacular job of collaborating with many parts of the company to make this happen. It was a great team effort. Out total-rewards staff worked closely with our facilities director, John Hunt, and his staff identified and converted the most suitable meeting room. John also worked with the supplier of the tread-desks. Matt Loeb, CAE, [staff executive, strategy] led an effort to fund the purchase of the tread-desks. Promotions went through our corporate communications electronic newsletter, The Circuit Board.

What's the feedback that you've been hearing from staff?

They're pleased we're making this investment in them. The reaction of employees who are experiencing improved health ranges from greatly relieved to ecstatic. On our staff survey, employees who are satisfied or extremely satisfied with the mix of benefits offered through the total-rewards program went from 69 percent to 79 percent in one year.

What would you say to another organization that is considering implementing a similar program?

I believe every company that is serious about cutting its healthcare costs over the long term should be looking at an investment in wellness. The bottom line is healthy employees spend fewer healthcare dollars, and external research tells us they are more productive and engaged. Instead of looking at benefits from the point of view of “what can we cut?” why not look at some of your benefit dollars as a long-term investment in promoting health and well being? Begin by creating a baseline of knowledge and then document your efforts and your results. Improved health and access to the means for improving one's health may also result in reduced turnover, increased loyalty, increased productivity, and increased employee engagement.