FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
With an emphasis on fitness and health in Hawaii's business community, a group of workers from Altres routinely meets to walk and swim during their lunch hour. Altres encourages and accommodates their workout schedule because fit, healthy and nonsmoking employees ultimately save Altres money and boost morale. Altres employees, from left, Amy Muraoka, Jenies Thomas and Lynn Sato did lateral lifts as they walked along the promenade at Ala Moana Beach Park. CLICK FOR LARGE
Fit for work
Hawaii companies are recognizing that it's cheaper to keep employees healthy than hire new ones
STORY SUMMARY »
More and more Hawaii businesses have come to realize that fit employees make for fit companies. There's a growing recognition among Hawaii companies that obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, sleep disorders and anxiety prevent employees from doing their jobs, as well as raise insurance premiums and health-care costs.
Island companies are doing everything from giving out $2,000 bonuses to employees who stop smoking to paying for hula and fitness classes, and even setting up company gyms. They also are offering massage and setting up company gardens.
And, they're setting up employees with support services that range from nutritionist to personal trainers.
Employers are now routinely offering workers higher wages and better benefits to help counteract the struggle to find and retain skilled employees in one of the nation's most robust job markets. And, since health-care premiums keep rising, those with an eye to the future are making sure that some of those benefits emphasize employee wellness.
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Jenies Thomas, a 38-year-old staffing specialist at Altres, lost 4 percent of her body fat and two dress sizes in four months through an employee-sponsored contest.
Each weekday, Thomas and co-workers Lynn Sato, 30, and Amy Muraoka, 29, spend their lunch hour working out. They walk the 10 minutes to Ala Moana Beach Park where they swim, lift weights or run -- rain or shine.
"We don't get that afternoon slump," Sato said. "Working out gives us a second wind and we come back to work refreshed."
At Altres, heath-conscious employees are the norm. The company, which offers employees discounts to local health clubs and often sponsors fitness-based contests, is part of a growing trend among Hawaii-based businesses to help employees get fit.
THERE'S A GROWING recognition among Hawaii companies that obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, sleep disorders and anxiety hinder employees from doing their jobs, and raise insurance premiums and health-care costs. More and more Hawaii businesses have come to realize that fit employees make for fit companies.
Science & Technology International, also known as STI, offers employees who quit smoking for 12 months a $2,000 bonus, encourages afternoon pingpong games in the employee lounge and pays $50 a month to fund the physical activity of an employee's choice, ranging from hula and karate to gym memberships. The company also brings in a massage therapist a few times a month and offers employees participation in volunteer projects to enhance their mental health.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Altres employees, from left, Jenies Thomas, Amy Muraoka and Lynn Sato did lunges during a lunchtime workout along the promenade at Ala Moana Beach Park. CLICK FOR LARGE
"We play pingpong every day," said Nick Susner, president and chief executive of STI. "It's a good chance for people to get some aerobic exercise and to improve esprit de corps."
Employees at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, recognized by the Hawaii Psychological Association for having one of Hawaii's healthiest workplaces in 2006, can work out at the company gym for up to one-and-a-half hours a day on the clock. They also can meet with a nutritionist, take aerobics and other fitness classes or spend time gardening. In addition, they receive a certain amount of health money each month which they can spend on medical co-pays or other services like massage.
It's no secret that Hawaii's employers are struggling to find and retain skilled employees in one of the nation's most robust job markets. And, rising health-care costs are a challenge, too. Employers are now routinely offering workers higher wages and better benefits, said Judy Bishop, president of Bishop & Co., a local staffing company. And, those with an eye to the future are making sure that some of those benefits emphasize employee wellness, she said.
Nationwide, companies are finding that it is cheaper to keep employees healthy than it is to hire new ones, and that's especially true in Hawaii, where the tight labor market has made recruitment tough and forced employers to hire and train inexperienced workers, Bishop said.
"Every company that has an awareness of productivity and the shortage of good employees knows that they have to keep the ones that are healthy and working for them on the job," Bishop said. "If you are losing people because of illness, that is something that can be controlled. Wellness programs are a way to keep employees not only healthy but happy, and that leads to better morale."
With health-care costs rising alongside Hawaii's increasing labor shortage, island companies have got to find creative ways to cope, she said.
"A lot of our human resources and personnel departments have become much more sophisticated in terms of doing more for their work force," she said.
Indeed, just this month, the Waianae Coast Community Health Center expanded its already generous employee wellness program to include on-the-clock workouts as a means of trying to reduce health-care costs, said Pat Hall, human resources director for the center.
"THE PRIMARY PURPOSE for our wellness program is to promote lifestyle changes that will improve the overall physical and mental health of our employees," Hall said.
Since the change, Brenda Yamasato, who works as a medical receptionist for WCCHC, said she's seen an increase in the number of co-workers who use the company gym.
"Some people just need a little push," Yamasato said, adding that she's lost 12 pounds and two dress sizes since she began to take advantage of the company's wellness perks.
There have been many success stories at WCCHC since the company began its wellness focus in 2002, said Christy Inda,* who is a clinical dietitian and wellness program manager for WCCHC.
"It's really amazing to see what a little encouragement can do," Inda said. "Many of our employees have reached their fitness goals."
That's good because it could reverse a negative trend that had hit WCCHC and many other island companies. Over the years, the company, like many others in Hawaii, had seen significant increases in health premiums due to overuse of health-care services, Hall said. Plus, the number of workers' comp injuries and temporary disability insurance claims also had increased, she said.
"We are confident that a successful employee health program will contribute to healthier and happier employees, and a more productive work force," Hall said.
THE COMPANY'S EMPHASIS on health also helps build consumer confidence in their services, Hall said.
"It's our president's position that as a community health center we are a change agent for the Waianae community," she said. "Unless our employees represent visibly the values of wellness, we cannot be effective in creating change."
STI's wellness program is built around a similar principle.
"It's our business to help increase health; we ought to do that for our own company," Susner said. "We felt that we needed to put our money where our mouth was."
Thanks to STI's encouragement and money, Jacklord Tano, an electronics engineer tech, said he has gone eight months without smoking. The company has paid for him to wear the patch, offered informal counseling support from other co-workers who have beat the habit, and dangled a $2,000 incentive in front of him.
Tano tried to quit smoking, one of the largest contributors to employee health-care costs, twice before and failed. But this time, he's confident he can beat his former pack-a-day habit due to the right mix of support and incentive. STI began offering workers $1,000 to quit smoking in 2002, but upped the amount this year to try and entice the company's last few holdouts to quit, said Jody Oyama, the clinical director for STI.
"As former smokers ourselves, Nick and I know how hard it is to quit the habit," Oyama said, adding that the company has managed to convince all but one of its smokers to either quit or try to quit.
If more companies made the investment in wellness that STI has done, there would be far fewer smokers in the world, Tano said.
"My friends that smoke said they wished that their companies would do something like this for them," Tano said. "If they did, they said that they would quit in a flash."
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
» The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center employee wellness program allows employees up to 1 1/2 hours a week of work time for approved wellness/fitness activities and gives employees a yearly health credit to spend on medical co-pays or other services, said Christy Inda, a clinical dietitian and wellness program manager. Inda's name was misspelled and some program details were inaccurate in a story that ran Sunday on Page D7.