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Healthy employees, healthy business: General contractors reap benefits from holistic health, wellness programs

Employee health and wellness programs have evolved significantly — both in prevalence and substance — since they began gaining popularity about a decade ago.

A recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that nine out of 10 organizations offer at least one kind of wellness benefit. More than three in five have wellness budgets and, of those, more than half expected their wellness budgets to grow in the next couple of years, the foundation's survey found.COURTESY: R&H CONSTRUCTION - R&H Constructions preventive health and wellness initiatives center around team activities that encourage camaraderie and allow employees to get to know colleagues from different departments who dont typically have a chance to interact during the workday.

The Society for Resource Management's 2017 Employee Benefits survey report states that nearly a quarter of companies increased their preventive health and wellness benefits between 2016 and 2017. Its 2015 Employee Benefits survey found 70 percent of U.S. employers offered a general wellness program, an increase from 58 percent in 2008.

Portland's R&H Construction has long had a corporate culture that promotes fitness, from co-founder Bob Fulton and other executives running during lunch breaks decades ago to, more recently, biometric screenings for employees. It implemented a more formalized program about a dozen years ago, with one person in charge of overseeing it.

Karen Swanzy-Sidlo, human resources generalist for the company, took over the preventive health and wellness effort about five years ago, and soon after formed a committee to survey employees about what had worked so far, what hadn't and what new features they wanted to see.

"What we learned is that anything that involves a team has been popular and successful," she said, noting camaraderie and teambuilding are the common themes for what drives the program now. "We have more engagement among people across the company so people from different departments can get to know each other."

Group activities have included rafting, paintball, go kart racing, a bike commute challenge, an annual company field day and cooking classes, among others. Last year, the company became approved as a Blue Zone site by meeting specific wellness measures, and this year office staff staged breakfasts and barbeques with healthy Blue Zone-inspired meals for field staff. COURTESY: R&H CONSTRUCTION - R&H Constructions preventive health and wellness initiatives center around team activities that encourage camaraderie and allow employees to get to know colleagues from different departments who dont typically have a chance to interact during the workday.

"That has always been one of the biggest challenges within the company is how to engage field and office staff," Swanzy-Sidlo said, adding the catered meals gave the two groups opportunities to interact. They also showed the field staff that nutritious breakfasts and lunches can be delicious and a manageable way to improve health.

Other elements of R&H Construction's preventive health and wellness program include onsite nutritional workshops, flu shots, a monthly $35 fitness incentive, fitness trackers, stand-up workstations, healthy snacks provided in the office, showers for lunchtime workouts, and entrance fees paid to community events such as Race for the Cure. Biometric screenings, online health assessments and company challenges also remain part of the offerings.

While it's difficult for many companies to quantify the success of preventive health and wellness efforts, Swanzy-Sidlo said she was impressed to hear employee suggestions about how to improve safety during a seminar on preventing slips, trips and falls. Employees noted that eating healthier foods leads to improved alertness on the job and the ability to recover more quickly if an accident does occur, she said.

Hoffman Construction Company, like R&H Construction, takes a holistic approach to its preventive health and wellness program. Vice President Dan Drinkward said its three-pronged approach to wellness includes physical health, educational initiatives and participation in community activities.

As part of its physical health program, employees have access to biometric screening, challenges such as who can rack up the most steps on their pedometer, and access to a personal primary health clinic through Hoffman's partnership with Seattle-based Vera Whole Health. Employees can receive primary care services, biometric testing, and health and wellness coaching along with other services at the clinic in downtown Portland.

The educational component includes online resources about health, wellness and stress prevention, and coaching sessions to encourage financial planning and wellness. The community involvement portion promotes volunteering for various causes as groups of colleagues and as individuals during personal time. Hoffman has a committee that provides direction for health and wellness initiatives and a dedicated staff person who administers the overall program.

"For us, it's really not about decreasing recidivism or absenteeism or anything like that ," Drinkward said. It's about doing the right thing for our employees. That's the framework for the decision to start this program and for any of the changes we make to it."

In addition to improved health and safety in the workplace, benefits for companies' bottom lines don't hurt either. For every $1 invested in general wellness efforts, companies can experience a return on investment of $1.50 and nearly $4 for investments in disease management programs that target chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity, according to the Rand Corp.

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