Keeping the work force fit
Top workplaces put a high priority on wellness and exercise
In an era not so long ago, the only time many companies thought about their employees’ health was when they took a sick day.
Today, with a heightened awareness about the importance of monitoring personal health and health-care costs, wellness has become a watchword for the companies on Virginia Business’ annual list of Best Places to Work in Virginia.
Everything from yoga to massages is on the menu as companies encourage their workers to stretch and bend on the yoga mat, or de-stress on the massage table.
But those are only a few of the ways wellness is being promoted to an increasingly health-conscious workforce.
This is the sixth year that Virginia Business has compiled the Best Places list in cooperation with the Best Companies Group, a Pennsylvania-based firm. Since then, 10 companies have been on the list all six years. Nine have made the list for five years, and 17 have been Best Places for four years. (see chart)
In late 2015, about 150 companies registered to become one of Virginia’s Best Places to Work in 2016. One hundred were selected in three categories: small (15-99 U.S. employees); midsize (100-249) and large (250 or more).
Best Companies Group benchmarked the companies on a list of core values: leadership and planning; corporate culture and communications; role satisfaction; work environment; relationships with supervisors; training and benefits; and pay and overall employee engagement.
Forbes recently reported the results of a 2014 Monster.com survey of 6,800 people, which found that 42 percent of workers left a job because of stressful environments and another 35 percent considered changing jobs because of stress.
About 40 percent of respondents cited exercise as a strategy for reducing stress, and an increasing number of companies have incorporated exercise into their smorgasbord of benefits.
At mHelpDesk, a technology company in Fairfax, exercise is by the clock. At 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., one of the company’s employees leads an intense, 5-minute workout, welcoming other employees to join.
Vincent Wong, the company’s co-founder and CEO, says the exercise leaders are employees with other duties, but they have been personal trainers, or have had similar roles in past jobs.
At another technology company, HumanGeo in Arlington, a free fitness center in the building offers weight training, treadmills, elliptical machines, showers and lockers for employees.
The Fahrenheit Group, a consulting firm in Richmond, gives its employees ergonomic work stations and alternative furniture such as standing desks and stability balls for seating. In addition, Fahrenheit workers have access to a nearby gym.
Keith Middleton, a co-managing partner at Fahrenheit, says the wellness program is in line with the company’s philosophy of maintaining a proper work/life balance.
“We’ve been able to attract talented people that we might not have been able to otherwise,” Middleton says of the benefits of a coordinated wellness program.
“You’re competing not only on price, but benefits and lifestyle,” Middleton adds.
Another Richmond consulting firm, The Frontier Project, also offers a multi-faceted wellness program ranging from access to exercise equipment to a variety of ergonomic seating choices, such as balance balls in lieu of chairs to encourage employees to get up more and move during the day.
Yoga mats and other equipment also are available for employees to either exercise or practice mindfulness during the day.
Mindfulness is generally defined as a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings and thoughts. It is frequently used as a therapeutic technique.
On the physical side, The Frontier Project has bike racks on-site to accommodate those who cycle to work and to encourage others who might want to.
At the Belvoir Federal Credit Union in Woodbridge, a yoga instructor comes in biweekly for classes after hours, and a Wellness Committee organizes biking, hiking and kayak outings.
The Virginia Credit Union’s headquarters in Richmond has a wellness program that includes a health fair and friendly challenges promoting weight loss, water consumption and walking, among other activities.
In the weight loss challenge, employees pay $15, which is matched by the credit union to create a winning pot for the top competitors.
“Our last challenge saw participants lose 768 pounds, or about 3 percent of the group’s total weight,” says Glenn Birch, director of public and media relations for the credit union.
During a recent four-week water challenge, in which participants are urged to drink water instead of sugary drinks, 318 participants drank a collective 4,853 gallons of water.
Birch says the credit union offers a menu of other wellness-related activities, such as gym membership reimbursement, eight hours of annual leave for getting an annual physical and quarterly “lunch and learn” programs on wellness.
At SimVentions, a Fredericksburg company that focuses on the defense industry, employees can enjoy basketball and weight training at the area YMCA twice a week. Company flag football and coed softball teams in local leagues also are part of the mix, as well as after-work music and jam sessions.
Dynamis Inc., a health-care company in Fairfax, provides free personal training sessions with the CEO’s trainer and has yoga mats, weights, bouncing balls, skipping ropes, in addition to a well-equipped gym in the building, with high-tech exercise machines and towel service, showers, a locker room and 24/7 card access.
At the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based in Arlington, the company’s free wellness program consists of boot camp, strength training and yoga classes four days a week, both during and after the work day.
Boot camp regimes typically involve both cardiovascular and strength training. “Classes are designed to bring employees together to work out, relieve stress and get to know one another,” says Krista Silano, a company spokeswoman.
All classes are led by certified training professionals and are free to staff.
SRC, a national technology company with an office in Chantilly, says most of its offices offer robust fitness centers at no charge.
For those not in a location with fitness facilities, the company pays for fitness club memberships. SRC also provides on-site bike storage and locker rooms to encourage employees to exercise on a schedule that works best for them.
Carfax, a vehicle data company based in Centreville, wants the wheels to keep turning on its employees’ fitness. It offers an incentive to help them accomplish that: a Fitbit reimbursement program.
Fitbit is a digital tracker that, depending on its configuration, can help people keep tabs on their activities, exercise, food, weight and sleep.
At its Virginia office, Carfax encourages the practice of “power minutes,” during which employees get up from their desks each hour for at least one minute to get their heart rates up.
At FinFit, a financial education company in Virginia Beach, employees are given an opportunity to push their activity to a new level with a boot camp wellness program offered through Jim White Fitness. The fitness and nutrition studio offers a wide variety of programs that can lead to weight loss or more general fitness.
Accounting Principals, a staffing company with an office in Glen Allen, pays for a triple whammy of wellness programs for employees: gym, weight loss and smoking relief.
Inserso Corp., a technology company in Vienna, provides workers with organized group sessions led by a personal trainer.
Impact Makers, a Richmond consulting company, likes to highlight its lunchtime yoga classes for employees.
The Navy Federal Credit Union provides employees who work in its branch offices up to $300 a year to use toward health- and fitness-related activities. The money can be used for gym memberships or to purchase fitness equipment.
NES Associates LLC, a technology company in Alexandria, offers headquarters employees weekly Zumba and fitness classes, as well as weekly delivery of fruit.
Hitting the trail
For some companies, wellness can mean a brisk walk or run.
At the office of American Global Logistics, a transportation company in Martinsville, employees have access to the Dick and Willie Passage Rail Trail, a 4.5-mile asphalt path that winds through the city. Employees are encouraged to walk, run, bike or even roller-blade their way to fitness.
At Damuth Trane, an energy services company in Chesapeake, workers seeking a fitness boost are directed to the Green Mile, a mile-long painted line in the company’s parking lot, available for walks or runs.
At the Virginia Beach offices of Studio Center, which creates, records and produces commercial media for TV and radio, the company’s facilities are two football fields apart, the perfect distance for a long walk to help employees get their blood stirring.
Studio Center says that regular on-site Ping Pong and Foosball competitions keep their employees on the go.
Independent Container Line Ltd. in Glen Allen sponsors sports and race teams and suggests that employees take advantage of nearby walking trails and volleyball courts.
Sometimes workers need more than exercise to feel better, chase the blues away or work at an optimum performance level.
The Healthcare Distribution Management Association in Arlington is on top of that idea with in-house meditation sessions.
Create Digital Inc., a full-service digital agency in Richmond, also sees the advantages of meditation. It offers yoga, meditation and information about how to create a healthy eating lifestyle.
BOSH Global Services, a technology company in Newport News, has a program, “Thin It to Win It,” that incorporates regular exercise, consumption of fruits and vegetables and weight loss.
If employees think they have trouble sticking to the routine, the company can set up a buddy system to keep everyone motivated.
Many companies on the Best Companies lists include regular medical assessments of their employees as part of their focus on wellness.
Edward Jones, an investment firm headquartered in St. Louis, offers employees free online assessments and biometric screenings to measure cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure, with up to $1,560 in premium discounts earned for participating, getting good results and not smoking.
Old Point National Bank in Hampton offers workers free blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings and mammograms annually.
When your job requires a lot of sitting, the body can rebel.
Sitting might have contributed to the lower back pain that has troubled Marty Einhorn, a managing partner with the Norfolk-based accounting firm Wall, Einhorn and Chernitzer P.C.
Heather Sunderlin, director of employee services at the firm, says that Einhorn’s chiropractor suggested that perhaps one of those sit-or-stand desks would help. And it did, she says.
That was about all the motivation the company needed to provide similar desks to all of its employees.
“These desks have motors,” Sunderlin says. “You can raise or lower them with the touch of a button.”
“It’s helped our employees in terms of morale,” Sunderlin says.
The company recently moved into a new space, the 12th floor of the SunTrust building in Norfolk, and designers laid it out to promote collaboration and health and wellness, with a lot of natural light and, of course, the new desks.
Eventually, Sunderlin says, the company will bring in a couple of treadmill desks, so employees can have the option of reading their emails while walking their way to better health.
She adds that the sit-to-stand desks have already prompted a lot of questions from clients who come into the office.
When the treadmill desks arrive — well, who knows what the questions might be?
Virginia Business Best Places to Work 2016
Top Small Employer: Marathon Consulting and List of small employers
Top Midsize Employer: Defense Point Security and List of midsize employers
Top Large Employer: Burns & McDonnell and List of large employers
Related story: Eating well
Videos: This year's winners tell us why they are the Best Place to Work.