Simple, realistic goals help employees shape up

People often say it’s the little things that count, that difficult and challenging tasks aren’t insurmountable when tackled in small bites. And time after time, we see how simple steps — tempered by consistency, enthusiasm, effort and support — can form a potent mix when it comes to changing behaviors and instituting positive habits.

Such is the case at The Health Consultants Group, a privately held employee benefits brokerage with 25 employees in Plainville and a small satellite office in Massachusetts. Committed to employee health and wellness — for their clients and their employees — the company asked its staff at a team lunch held prior to the summer what they might want to do together that would be fun, involve physical activity, require goal setting and promote friendly competition. The results, said Susan Mateyov, wellness coordinator, was a seasonal wellness program called Summer ShapeUP.

ShapeUP, she explained, was an eight-week voluntary program which encouraged participants to track a variety of healthy practices that involved tasks easily achieved and items readily available. These activities, she added, were based on research she did into what other companies were doing on the health and wellness front, as well as information she gathered from The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).

The company had already tried a walking program and wanted something more interactive. A weekly point system was developed for tracking a variety of healthy choices. Points were assigned and awarded for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity daily; for water, fruit and vegetable intake; for days without tobacco products; and for a variety of “bonus” items such as visiting a local farmers’ market, grilling instead of frying foods, bringing a healthy lunch to work, and getting eight or more hours of sleep at night.

“We knew that to be successful, these had to be simple, achievable tasks like eliminating sugary drinks, packing a nutritious lunch, and just taking a quick walk before or after work,” Mateyov said. “We weren’t looking to do anything invasive like drawing blood, or more aggressive tactics like measuring and recording weight. People told us to keep it simple, that their challenge often was just getting started and needing support from colleagues and friends. So we kept it easy, made it fun, and introduced financial incentives to stoke the competitive fires!”

Those incentives, she added, were gift card drawings for everyone who earned a certain amount of points each week, drawings for all participants simply for trying, and additional weekly gift card drawings for participants who exceeded the weekly point threshold. The program wrapped up at the end of June with the majority of participants consistently exceeding the minimum weekly incentive level. Employee evaluations, Mateyov said, indicated that staff enjoyed the program and that they now drank more water and had an enhanced awareness of what they were eating and general nutrition. Additionally, four employees participated in a charity 5K fitness walk in July.

The company’s senior management team, she stressed, was very supportive. The program was promoted through a kick-off meeting, regular emails, and flyers posted around the office. Flush from this success, the next wellness program on their agenda is to have employees complete workshops found at the CBIA Healthy Connections website. Each employee who finishes at least three online workshops will receive a Starbucks gift card.

“I realize how simplified this sounds, but it’s just about raising awareness, increasing focus and setting realistic goals that anyone can achieve,” Mateyov concluded. “We’re trying to introduce similar health and wellness thinking with our client companies, but it’s the same formula: Ensure support from management, keep it fun, introduce low-cost incentives and be willing to run the program even if only a few people participate initially. The word will get out, and more employees will join in each time!”

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!