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McHenry County wellness programs get employees moving in variety of ways

It’s one of the most dangerous activities in the world, and in the course of their workday, millions of people do far too much of it: sitting.

According to a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year, more than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting: watching TV, working at a computer, commuting or doing other sedentary pursuits. The report examined findings from 47 studies that looked at the health effects of sedentary behavior. Over the course of these studies, people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes – even those who exercised regularly.

Sitting at a desk all day or commuting to work are necessary evils for many employees. But many companies think the effects of sitting can be offset by implementing employee wellness programs that encourage adequate exercise and proper nutrition. In McHenry County, Ortho Molecular Products in Woodstock, Centegra and Advocate health systems and Sage Products in Cary each take a different approach to promoting healthier workplaces.

ORTHO MOLECULAR PRODUCTS

At about 10 a.m. on any given weekday, drivers whizzing past Duncan Place in Woodstock will see a sight uncommon in today’s workaholic world: coworkers going for a walk.

Many of the 43 employees at the headquarters of Ortho Molecular Products, a dietary supplement company that sells exclusively to health care professionals, include walks as part of their daily rituals, much like a morning cup of coffee or checking email. These half-mile strolls around the expansive campus are positive additions to the workday, company President Aaron Bartz said. They burn calories, relieve stress and encourage a team spirit with each lap of dense prairie land.

“Our wellness programs are intended to inspire employees who are already passionate about their health. Each wellness opportunity helps our employees really engage in what we do and creates camaraderie amongst co-workers,” Bartz said. “To be authentic in our mission of ‘health care,’ rather than ‘sick care,’ we have to live it out as part of our company culture.”

The walks have not always been common at Ortho Molecular Products. They started after employees participated in the corporate wellness program called the Million Mile March. Coworkers from the Woodstock office and the company’s manufacturing facility in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, teamed up, clipped on pedometers and logged every step in hopes of winning the 11-week competition. 

Although the pedometers since have been deposited in the backs of desk drawers and the winning team long forgotten, the steps toward better health have continued. Besides walking daily, employees munch on healthy snacks and monitor adequate water intake. Some employees have bought standing desks to help offset the effects of sitting during the workday.

In addition to the step count competition, Ortho Molecular Products sponsors an annual health screening, a weight-loss challenge and a smoking cessation program, said Nathan Albertson, director of human resources. On Monday mornings, a balanced breakfast is catered for employees. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, healthy lunches are catered in, with meals such as salmon, Mediterranean-style salad and baked chicken with whole grain rice. Hummus and crudités are staples in the communal refrigerator.

The success of the corporate wellness program at Ortho Molecular Products extends beyond the newfound healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices of its employees, Albertson said. It serves as an example to other businesses on Duncan Place, whose employees witness the culture of employee health at Ortho Molecular Products and seek to imitate it.

“Employees at other companies in the area see our employees walking and may be inspired to make healthier lifestyle choices themselves,” Albertson said. “We didn’t set out for it, but our culture of health is an example for others.”

CENTEGRA AND ADVOCATE HEALTH SYSTEMS

For the more than 3,700 associates of Centegra Health System, employee health is going digital.

Every January through mid-April, associates are given the opportunity to complete an online health evaluation, powered by Interactive Health. The questionnaire gathers information on lifestyle and nutrition habits, stress level and sleep patterns. Upon completion of the health evaluation, associates are eligible for a variety of free, online programs to help them achieve their wellness goals. These include health coaching, food and exercise logs and monthly webinars on stress management.

“A corporate wellness program is just the right thing for a company to do,” said Celine Pope, wellness manager at Centegra. “Employees may be working 40 to 50 hours a week, and they need that support at work.”

The most popular program offered through Centegra Corporate Health and Wellness is called “Break Your Boundaries.” The biannual, eight-week program helps participants lose weight, learn better nutrition habits and increase daily exercise. The participants with the most weight lost at the end of the program win monetary prizes. But there’s a catch: Sixty percent of the prize is awarded at the end of the program. The remaining 40 percent only can be dispensed six months later, if the participant maintains within 3 percent of his or her weight at the end of the program.

“In Break Your Boundaries, we always focus on the maintenance. We want these to be lifetime habits,” Pope said.

Through the Centegra Health System Wellness Package, area companies can implement such wellness programs into their own workplace cultures. This year, 340 employees from 13 companies competed in Break Your Boundaries competitions. Every year, the program sends associates to dozens of area companies to perform health screenings.

Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington takes a similar approach to making health accessible for its employees. The online program HealtheYou provides online resources and tools for personalized approach to employee health and wellness. Wellness programs include weekly and monthly health challenges and tracking of wearable devices such as Fitbit or Jawbone wristbands. Advocate Good Shepherd also hosted a “Workout with the President” event, in which president Karen Lambert joined employees for a fitness class.

“Employee wellness programs have had a very positive impact on our workplace culture,” said Lisa O’Neil, director of public affairs and marketing. “We want to ensure that we provide every tool and resource possible to support our associates to set health goals and achieve improvements, not only to make them happier and healthier, but to create an overall culture of health here at Advocate Good Shepherd.”

SAGE PRODUCTS INC.

One of the key mottos at Sage Products is to always “Keep It Personal” with its employees.

“What could be more personal than one’s own health and wellness? In fact, promoting wellness as a way of life is not only written in our values, it’s front and center in the programs we offer and in our facilities,” said Tammi Buettner, vice president of human resources at Sage.

The Cary-based company, which invents, manufactures and sells health care products to improve patient outcomes, exemplifies this commitment through several wellness opportunities, including an on-site gymnasium, which offers fitness classes and the guidance of a physical therapist and fitness trainer. In addition to annual health screenings, employees can visit the on-site Wellness Center, where a full-time nurse practitioner and a part-time doctor can assist with minor ailments. Employees can form teams and join 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, participate in badminton and volleyball games or join the Sage Golf Club.

A favorite wellness opportunity among employees is the Interactive Health Program, which includes annual screenings and follow-up programs to improve wellness. This year, each employee who signed up received a free Fitbit to help keep track of their fitness goals. These devices made employees realize how much, or how little, they walked during the workday, and generated discussions about getting more exercise and implementing healthier lifestyle habits, Buettner said. Participation in the program also helps reduce an employee’s health insurance premium.

While saving money on long-term health care costs serves as a strong motivator for employees to participate in wellness programs, the workplace culture at Sage makes achieving health part of the job.

“Our belief in the importance of prevention extends well beyond our customers and into our everyday lives, including our work lives. The health, wellness and well-being of our employees are absolutely critical in maintaining our culture and serving our customers,” Buettner said.

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