Taking steps toward workplace wellness

Apr 06, 2010

Gregory & Appel Insurance in Indianapolis has had a wellness program for years, but always felt it was missing some of the elements needed to be the successful program company officials were envisioning. This year, however, the insurance agency connected with Clarion Health Partners and Virgin HealthMiles to pilot a comprehensive program for smaller companies.

With 110 employees, Gregory & Appel is significantly smaller than the standard client for Virgin HealthMiles, and is one of the few small firms that use the Virgin HealthMiles program. Virgin HealthMiles’s typical client is a company with more than 1,000 employees. Its largest client has 160,000 employees and the smallest has approximately 300 employees.

The program, created by Virgin HealthMiles in 2006, uses a special pedometer to measure step counts so that the information can’t be fudged or incorrectly entered. The pedometer records the user’s activity and reports it when connected to a computer. It can hold several day’s worth of data, appropriately allocating the number of steps to the correct days.

According to Robert L. Miller, vice president and senior consultant for Gregory & Appel Insurance, what had been missing from the agency’s wellness initiative was a good incentive program. The Virgin HealthMiles program has six steps, and after progressing through each increment, participants earn a gift certificate.

“The key is that we have some people who are close to hitting their first milestone and getting their first gift card,” said Miller. “You can collect it immediately or let it build up, but you have to earn your rewards within 12 months.”

After 12 months from participants’ start date with the program, they start at the beginning again.

“It’s a real challenge to get there. It isn’t steps as much as it is health points. You can do some personal activities that you log in. If you go to a gym or take a class, you can do self-reporting but the amount of points isn’t as high,” said Miller, who added that the program is set up this way to encourage the accurate activity reporting of the pedometer.

Before they start, all of the employees’ biometric information is loaded into the computer. The employees can go in at any time to get their weight and body index tested. The testing will indicate if there was an improvement from the previous screening.

“The hospital component of it is [because] we made the decision to have them do our [employee assistance program],” explained Miller. “They do the biometric screening, health assessment screening, 24-hour nurse line, lunch-and-learn programs, and quarterly meetings. Basically, they help us to ensure that our employees are getting the resources they need from a medical perspective.”

The program had to be rolled out in steps, as this is about healthy activity, not just racking up miles. The employees were given their $25 pedometers at the end of the year, but all of the other pieces had to be put into place before the program could officially begin at the end of February, including communication pieces, health-risk assessments, biometric screening, and a coaching class. During that time period, there was a lot of communication and everyone was excited to get started, according to Miller.

With 110 employees, Gregory & Appel is reaching 85 percent participation. To help ensure that all of the employees are invested in the program, Gregory & Appel formed a committee with members representing each of its departments and all levels of fitness. Someone is responsible for each aspect of the program, from the company’s fitness equipment to communicating program information.

Miller said Gregory & Appel enjoys the flexibility of the program.

“We can challenge other departments or challenge ourselves. When we have outside activities like Weight Watchers or Race for the Cure, there are additional bonus points for participation,” Miller said.

“We tried to make it easy for people to progress, but they are all fitness related,” he said. “Even if we have people who can’t participate for medical reasons they can get points for participating by volunteering at the event.”