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Published September 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

More companies offer wellness incentives for workers

At some local companies, work is also becoming a place to work out. Employees at JLG Architects, whose offices include Fargo and Grand Forks locations, take two 15-minute group walks daily.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

At some local companies, work is also becoming a place to work out.

Employees at JLG Architects, whose offices include Fargo and Grand Forks locations, take two 15-minute group walks daily.

“The goal is to get our daily required amount of exercise in while at work,” said Amanda Silverman Kosior, JLG Architects marketing director. “It’s easy to get stuck at your desk all day long and not realize you haven’t moved around.”

At Appareo Systems, employees recently got together for a game of kickball after work. The game was part of a six-week “Get Moving Challenge” the company started to reward employees for being physically active.

“It’s a motivating factor,” said Linette Dahl, Appareo business administrator. “To have your company behind it and doing something might push people to change some of their habits.”

JLG Architects and Appareo aren’t alone.

More companies are getting involved in employees’ health by offering wellness programs with incentives for participating like the chances to win prizes.

“We have definitely seen an increased interest in organizations either wanting to enhance programs that they’re already doing or wanting to start a program,” said Pete Seljevold, director of Healthy North Dakota Worksite Wellness, a collaborative effort launched in 2009 between Dakota Medical Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota and the North Dakota Department of Health.

The initiative’s goal is to encourage more state businesses and organizations to offer worksite wellness programs.

“Its no secret health care costs are really rising, and people are trying to get a handle on that,” Seljevold said. “They want to do the right thing for their employees and help them lead healthier lives.”

Companies also are providing opportunities for employees to get healthy in the way of discounted gym memberships, educational classes on health and nutrition, and fitness facilities within the company.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota offers employees onsite fitness centers and group fitness classes like yoga and Pilates. The company also reimburses employees for participating in fitness events like a 5K if there is a fee and has a healthy dining initiative through which it costs employees less for healthy options.

“We’re trying to promote employee accountability,” said Mike Carlson, BCBSND corporate wellness director. “We want to make sure our employees have the right skills to understand their health care costs and seek the right type of care or intervention at the right time.”

The Milken Foundation estimates North Dakota businesses lose an estimated $2.1 billion each year from lost work days and decreased productivity in unhealthy workers, according to Healthy North Dakota Worksite Wellness.

In most organizations, unhealthy employees outnumber healthy ones, costing companies productivity and profits. At least half of an organization’s health care costs are driven by modifiable behaviors like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, according to the initiative’s website.

Since a typical American spends close to 50 hours a week at work, employers have a “huge opportunity to make a significant impact” on their employees’ health, Seljevold said.

Case New Holland (CNH) gives employees pedometers to track the steps they walk on a daily basis. The company then has competitions and walking events to get people moving.

“It just gives you motivation to get out and exercise,” said Chad Schlemmer, a design engineer and member of the CNH wellness committee.

Integrity Windows and Doors in Fargo, a member of the Marvin family of companies, holds wellness training sessions on-site as well as a “Walk the Walk” program where employees set goals and compete with other sites to accumulate the most miles walked.

“It has made a huge difference in some of their lives,” said Kathie Quinn, internal communications supervisor and a member of the HealthBuilders team. “Their focus has changed. Before, they didn’t think about incorporating walking into their daily routines, but now they are.”

Those who participate in BCBSND’s health club credit program, which provides a discount for members who use a health club a certain number of days per month, tend to have lower global health care costs, Carlson said.

“We want to make sure we’re proactive in supporting healthy lifestyles,” he said. “At the same time, we want to see the cost-containment effect on our health care costs and we believe it does that.”

Healthy North Dakota Worksite Wellness is holding a worksite wellness summit at Holiday Inn in Fargo on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Register at ndworksitewellness.org.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526