Workplace Wellness: Good Health is Good Business

In summer 2013, IC’s career services director John Bradac had what he called “a scary visit to the doctor.” His cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure were way higher than they should have been, and his type 2 diabetes was spiraling out of control. His doctor was even recommending insulin shots.

“I knew it was time to make a significant life change or face the consequences,” Bradac says. “So I joined Mind, Body, Me, the college’s wellness program.”

After an orientation course, Bradac was given initial health and biometric screenings, assessed for general fitness and health risks, and introduced to a health coach.
Mind Body Me infographic

“I needed to make a commitment to exercise daily,” he says. “So I started slowly and worked my way into a fairly intense aerobic and weight lifting program. Right now, my cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure numbers are normal, my diabetes is under control, and I’m off a couple of medications. Working out has also made me much more focused at work and at home. It’s reduced the stress of daily life. The only downside—nothing fits. I need a new wardrobe.”

A big factor in the turnaround, says Bradac, was having free access to the facilities and trainers at the college’s Robert R. Colbert Sr. Wellness Clinic.

Working Out at the Wellness Clinic

Above: A student fitness specialist at the Robert R. Colbert Sr. Wellness Clinic works with an IC staff member. Photo by Adam Baker _____________________________________________________________

“It’s so close to my office. I can get there at 7 a.m., start my day with a workout, and do another half hour in the evening. Really, what am I missing—lying on the couch every morning?”

Mind, Body, Me, though, is more than an exercise regimen. Some participants take a meditation class for stress relief. Others want to learn better eating habits. A runner planning a half marathon wanted a personal trainer for cross training. One participant was looking for relief from longstanding muscle strains.

“Everyone’s wellness needs are different based on where they are in life,” says Robin Davis, assistant director of employee benefits and work life. “We’ve worked to break down the barriers, develop critical partnerships, and provide our employees with an exceptional program designed to meet their needs.”

Ian Shaw ‘14 used Ithaca College’s wellness clinic to enhance his bachelor’s degree using field experience in clinical exercise science. Video by Giovanni Santacroce 

The college allows all benefits-eligible employees to design their own free program to fit their personal wellness needs. These corporate wellness services are offered in partnership with eni, a Binghamton-based employee benefits provider that already supplies the college’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

“When we integrate our services, there’s greater employee participation,” says Heather Vanca ’92, an exercise and sport sciences graduate and a wellness program manager for eni. “People who have benefited from EAP, for example, will be more likely to take part in a new wellness program. Having that edge helps when you’re inviting employees to change their behaviors and readjust their attitudes toward health.”

Customizing Programs

Eni didn’t just offer a standard, “off-the-shelf” wellness program to IC employees. It put together a proprietary summary that detailed the overall health concerns of Mind, Body, Me participants and highlighted the top four wellness concerns: weight, fitness, nutrition, and total health. IC then used that data to design programs tailored to these top areas. This kind of customization helps drive culture and behavior change.

“This is what I call ‘soft’ return on investment,” says Vanca. “You see increases in employee morale, lower employee turnover rates, and changes in lifestyle responses in terms of stress, physical inactivity, poor eating patterns, and tobacco use.”

According to a study published in Preventive Medicine, only one in 20 Americans engage in the five most important health behaviors: exercising regularly, taking in healthy levels and types of fat, eating five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, drinking moderately, and not smoking. Those are the best choices people can make to avoid putting themselves at risk for a host of serious health issues that bring consequences to themselves and their employers.

Working out with student fitness specialist

Above: A student fitness specialist at the wellness clinic works with an IC staff member using exercise balls. Photo by Adam Baker _____________________________________________________________

Health claims data show that heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, intestinal difficulties, diabetes, sleeping problems, obesity, anxiety, depression, and allergies are some of the top reasons for medical and pharmacy costs. Lifestyle-related disorders like these are the primary reasons for poor employee health, according to a 2013 study by Ithaca College exercise and sport sciences professor Gary Sforzo.

And poor employee health has a price tag. Data published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed overweight employees cost their employers 21 percent more money in medical and prescription claims than their slimmer counterparts. Smokers cost 15 percent more than nonsmokers. Employees who don’t exercise cost 10 percent more than employees who do. The cost of health care to employers, says a U.S. Corporate Wellness white paper, will likely be the most significant financial detriment to profitability over the next decade.

Employee wellness programs, though, reduce employer health care costs by improving employee health. The benefit on the financial front is evident in a summary of seven cost analysis studies published in Macromarketing. The data showed an average of $3.48 return on investment for each employer dollar spent on wellness programming. Now three years old, Mind, Body, Me is creating a return on investment that averages more than $5 for every dollar spent on wellness. In addition, the college has seen an average 32 percent decrease in individual health insurance claims for employees enrolled in Mind, Body, Me.

And as far as improving employee health, three years of aggregate data from the Mind, Body, Me program show that 5 percent of the program’s participants have decreased their body mass index from obese to overweight. Fifteen percent have moved from a high-moderate to low risk in fitness rating. In terms of total health measurement, 6 percent have changed from a high-moderate risk to low.

But those changes may not have been as manageable if the exercise venue wasn’t within walking distance of the employee workstation.

Overcoming Hurdles

“Time is the biggest barrier to making healthy lifestyle changes,” Vanca says. By providing screenings on campus, employees don’t have to schedule an appointment with a doctor. And, since the Mind, Body, Me program is free and includes personal training and group exercise classes, employees don’t have to buy memberships to gyms that they would have to drive to.

The Mind, Body, Me program partners with the Fitness Center, the wellness clinic, and other departments on campus, which also offer real-world learning opportunities for students. Students from all five schools at IC contribute to the success of Mind, Body, Me by facilitating personal training, group exercise classes, nutrition workshops, events coordination, and marketing, either as internships or paid employment.

“The Mind, Body, Me program gives my clients the extra incentive to focus on themselves,” says Julian Rivera ’13, a personal trainer at the Fitness Center planning to receive his doctor of physical therapy degree in 2015.

Mind, Body, Me also lets Rivera take advantage of the program’s reimbursement plan, which allows him to earn a certificate of personal training though the American College of Sports Medicine at no cost.

Working out with student fitness specialist2

Above: A student fitness specialist works with an IC staff member using free weights. Photo by Adam Baker _____________________________________________________________

“My clients benefit from Mind, Body, Me by getting free, one-on-one personal training sessions tailored to their needs, ailments, and physical abilities,” says Rivera. “Meanwhile, I sharpen my interpersonal skills, exercise planning, and time management.”

To date, 34 percent of IC’s eligible employees have joined Mind, Body, Me. And that’s with an opt-in model. There is a wait list for the program. New participants are provided with biometric screenings to measure cardiovascular fitness, lung function, flexibility, strength, and body fat. An online health risk assessment helps them identify personal risk factors. Eni then assigns a personal wellness coordinator and a health coach for support on wellness issues. Followup screenings are provided annually, and employees use web-based services to monitor their progress.

“Participants are able to know their numbers, see their progress, and set goals based on their needs,” Davis says. “Teaching employees to be better advocates for themselves is the real payoff of Mind, Body, Me,” Vanca adds.

“Gradually creating a new culture of health improves quality of life, reduces health risks, increases productivity, and uses health care benefits to their highest, most efficient level.”


More stories in the Spring issue of ICView:

Read about alumni who have charted a new life as captain of their own ship...

Read how three alumni have thrown caution to the wind by working extreme jobs...