Game changer

Companies use competition to make employee wellness fun

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Print this page by Stephenie Overman
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Chesapeake-based Damuth Trane holds contests and raffle drawings
to improve employee wellness. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Some companies play games with employee wellness.

Chesapeake-based energy services company Damuth Trane, for example, makes wellness a competition.

Damuth Trane organizes “a variety of challenges. We like to mix them up,” says Elise Tillie, human resources team leader. The company sponsors contests to see who can walk the most steps or lose the most weight. Before the end-of-the-year holidays, it holds a “maintain, don’t gain” competition. The contests are voluntary and on the honor system, with raffle drawings to spur competition.

There’s a cash reward for employees who quit smoking, and “if they do an annual wellness checkup, they receive a gift card,” Tillie adds. “The goal is to make sure they have a relationship with their doctor.”

In addition, Damuth Trane offers free flu vaccinations, has a gym at its headquarters, an employee assistance program — via a third-party company providing confidential assessments, short-term counseling and referrals —  as well as bringing in a mobile mammogram clinic. It’s also looking into instituting a quiet room where employees can de-stress. About 85 of the company’s more than 200 employees work at locations other than its headquarters, so the company partners with local Y’s and fitness clubs to provide exercise opportunities for those workers. 

Damuth Trane is concerned about employees’ emotional and financial wellness as well as their physical wellness, Tillie says. For instance, the company pays for an educational program that gives employees step-by-step guidance to eliminate debt, save for emergencies and plan for retirement.

In its 2018 Employee Benefit Report, the Society for Human Resource Management found that 75% of employers offer wellness information and/or a general wellness program. But others, like Damuth Trane, go above and beyond the basics to offer substantial benefits that help employees prevent illnesses and lower their health-care costs.

Challenges and coaching
Bon Secours Mercy Health, which operates hospitals in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions, also sponsors challenges for employees and offers individualized coaching.

“We have resources to help you meet your goals. We can connect you with a work/care manager or a coach who can help establish a training plan,” says Ashley Moody, well-being and recognition operations partner. “Taking care of our employees directly impacts our patient care. In health care, we’re often not the best at taking care of ourselves; we’re too busy taking care of others.”

To help remedy that, the company offers virtual medical visits to employees and their dependents. “It’s programming that can be accessed anywhere. We have so many clinical resources, it allows us to tap into the expertise at our fingertips,” Moody says. “We try to tie it all together — social, emotional, financial. A whole person has lots of things going on in their lives; you can’t silo. We want to help with anything that causes stress in their life.

“We’ve had excellent executive buy-in. Our team works hard to make sure our leaders are aware so they can communicate and be shining examples,” she adds. “We have wellness committees from across the system from different departments and teams. They are seen as subject-matter experts on all things well-being.”

Bon Secours Health System and Mercy Health merged last year and are taking steps to combine their wellness programs. “We’re taking the best of both worlds,” she says. “Mercy has a robust, outcome-based program. Bon Secours’ program is participation-based.” The new program will roll out in 2020.

In Newport News, Huntington Ingalls Industries offers a physical health clinic for employees and dependents of its shipbuilding division. The company also has a clinic at its facilities in Mississippi.

For a $15 charge, “you can get anything done you get done at your doctor’s office,” says Karen Velkey, corporate vice president for benefits and compensation. “If you have a cold, you can get treated. You can get lab work, X-rays. There’s a pharmacy, a vision center, dental care. There’s nutrition counseling, diabetes counseling.” Physicals are free.

The company’s health costs are below industry average, according to Velkey. “We’re working to make people understand that you shouldn’t go to the ER. The fewer ER visits, the greater the cost savings on ER. We’ve had a lot of avoided cost.”

However, employees often worry that participating in a wellness program will provide confidential medical information to their employer. To protect workers’ privacy, Huntington Ingalls’ clinic is run by a third party, QuadMed, and the company does not know the results of individual health screenings, Velkey says.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges. We just have to be really up front,” she says. “The signage says ‘operated by QuadMed.’ We get the name out there a lot. We try to make the division really clear.”

Because the company operates in three shifts, it can be challenging to provide wellness activities such as exercise classes for workers on the late shift.

“We have an employee on third shift who is diabetic and needs to eat small meals,” Velkey says. “The QuadMed educator really understood that and helped her plan snacks she could pack.”

Employees working from remote locations are a growing part of Huntington Ingalls’ business, so the company must make sure they also have comparable access to wellness programs. “My team is always asking: What is as valuable to those employees as the health clinic is?” Velkey says. “We use CVS clinics. We try to make sure they have what they need.”

An app for that
TowneBank offers a rich array of wellness benefits to its 2,500 employees in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. The Portsmouth-based financial institution provides flu shots, sponsors fitness challenges and has an employee assistance program that handles mental and financial problems as well as physical ones. The corporate office has a fitness center with equipment and classes; the company has a gym-membership reimbursement plan for employees working at other locations.

But it’s TowneBank’s wellness app that really sets it apart.

The company partners with Virginia Beach-based EdLogics LLC to offer employees an optional health literacy app. “It’s a cool tool that we can use to promote awareness and education,” says Christy Rudisill, the bank’s health and wellness officer.

Before choosing EdLogics in 2016, “we reviewed a lot of apps. I was skeptical at first. I’m a nurse by profession, and I wanted to be sure we had sound medical information,” Rudisill says. Employees — and their family members — can play games, participate in scavenger hunts, complete learning modules and take health quizzes. Each day, the app offers a “health scratch” question. Correct answers earn points. An incorrect answer provides a way to click and learn more about a particular health topic.

At the end of each month there’s a lottery drawing: “We give away $100 to three employees each month. The more people participate, the better their chance to win,” Rudisill says.

Many employees find the app appealing, she says. “We’re not a younger workforce — a lot of people are in their 40 or 50s  — but about 50% are actively engaging” with the app.

Since EdLogics collects data on app usage, employees’ individual privacy is protected, Rudisill says. And aggregated data allows TowneBank to see what topics employees are most interested in, helping the bank create new learning modules to meet its workers’ needs.

Figuring out what drives employees to participate in a company’s wellness program is critical to success, says Moody with Bon Secours Mercy Health. Confidential surveys, assessments and feedback all play important roles.

“You need to really know your population and figure out what opportunities there are,” Moody says. “If you try to develop a program before you know what the needs are, you might fall on your face. We might have what we think is an excellent idea but if it doesn’t serve the employees, what’s it [good] for?”

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