What’s with Wellness?

Health application touchscreen interface for improving fitness through personal healthcare


You don’t need an ironman athlete as your chief financial officer to kick-start a successful wellness program, but it helps. Kinda.

Around 2009, the folks at McCarthy Building Companies, a member of multiple AGC chapters, began talking about the need for a wellness program. “Partly because we were seeing our healthcare costs skyrocket, and partly because as an employee-owned company, we have a generous retirement package and wanted people to be able to enjoy their retirement — but that means taking care of yourself before you get to that point,” explains Lisa Sanders, director, compensation and benefits.
The company’s then-CFO, an IRONMAN competitor, was an avid biker and hiker, an outdoorsy sort whose penchant for fitness resonated, says Sanders, throughout McCarthy’s leadership team. Up top, wellness wasn’t a difficult idea to sell. On the lower rungs, however, the super-fit CFO was actually a hurdle for wellness proponents to overcome.
“Because our executive sponsor was an IRONMAN athlete, when we first started talking to employees about wellness, that’s what they thought we meant!” Sanders laughs. “The attitude was, ‘if [an IRONMAN competition] is your expectation, I’m not interested.’” Sanders and her team members asked the executives to leave the wellness talk to them, and as they spread the word of fitness, nutrition and all-things-in-moderation, the roots began to take hold.
In fact, they’re beginning to take hold across the nation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced a significant drop in the rate of recordable workplace injuries and illnesses in 2015. AGC of America puts an enormous emphasis on safety, of course, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Wellness programs are growing in popularity, helping companies keep their healthcare costs down and employee fitness and morale way, way up.
When McHugh Construction, a Builders Association member, began its wellness program, its planners encountered mixed responses.
“The majority of employees were excited to start,” says Shelly Griggs, the company’s marketing coordinator. “A few were indifferent and there is always a group of employees who are resistant to any type of change. They worried this new program might mean they’d feel pressure to exercise and whether there would still be free ice cream in the lunchroom. They expressed concern that their insurance costs would rise if they didn’t participate.”
Change is threatening, says Lila Tocci, director of company life for Tocci Building Companies, an AGC of Massachusetts member. Employee adoption of their wellness strategy, she says, was slow and incremental and came, in part, due to what might be called positive peer pressure.
“For people who want to eat well, those who exercise, a wellness program becomes something of a magnet,” she has observed. “It attracts those kinds of people and then there comes a tipping point where there’s more impetus toward health than away from it.”
These days, even the folks who used to have “the double cheeseburger with the fries and the super-size soda” are more often than not embarrassed to bring foods like that in.
“There are no eating Nazis here,” she says, “but people have grown so much more concerned with what they’re eating, there’s no need for them. Once you’ve turned a corner and the majority thinks a certain way, it becomes part of your company culture. We don’t have to say a lot about it, but when we do, it’s taken as encouragement, not enforcement.”

At McHugh, assurance that the plan was optional, that it was a new tool at employees’ disposal and there were other fun incentives for participation eventually swayed even those less enthused about participating.

“The apprehension subsided,” Griggs reports. “Over the months, more and more team members not only participated, they really started to buy in, and now more than 200 employees are signed up for the program!”
Lower cholesterol, getting off the insulin, weight loss, feeling better. You’d think it would be enough — and for some folks it is — but incentivizing your wellness program will lead to greater adoption. And that can equate to reduced healthcare costs for the company overall. Pair that with high employee morale and it’s a no-loss proposition.
Sanders says that myriad incentives built into McCarthy’s program have given employees the motivation to commit, and since partnering with Vitality, wellness within the company has gotten so popular, she says she’d have a riot on her hands if she took the program away.
“Wellness wasn’t just biometric data and good numbers,” she explains. “We wanted a partner that was looking at wellness from a holistic perspective. We felt wellness was personal, and Vitality was able to tailor the idea to each employee.”

At McHugh, employees earn points for all kinds of things — exercise, eating right, losing weight. Those who need improvement earn by meeting their various goals, and those in good shape earn for being healthy and having great numbers.

First up, real savings: McCarthy offers $400 off employee-only healthcare coverage, and if an employee also covers a spouse or domestic partner, that can go up to $800.

Through Vitality, employees earn points much like a frequent flyer program, redeeming them for all kinds of merchandise — the most popular at McCarthy are Amazon gift cards.

“You’ll hear people talk about working on their wellness and focusing on earning those points to use the gift cards for their holiday shopping,” Sanders says. “We’ve shifted wellness from ‘hey, I know I should take care of myself’ to giving them a financial incentive.”

At McHugh, discounted bike-sharing memberships for wellness participants have proven popular. “It’s especially beneficial for employees traveling between jobsites, to meetings downtown and those who commute by train from the suburbs,” says Griggs.

“We even provide free helmets — in McHugh blue, of course!” McHugh also covers entry fees for any area races, from 5Ks to marathons, for employees who recruit at least one other team member to join them. “It’s a great way to encourage team bonding and a healthy lifestyle,” says Griggs.

At Tocci, past incentives have included gift cards to places like Whole Foods and outfitters like REI, but right now they’re rolling out a new program.

“Healthy Actions is in concert with our Blue Cross/Blue Shield health and medical program,” says Tocci. “There is a cash rebate if people complete the annual health risk assessment and follow through on whatever it is that their primary care doctor wants them to do to be in compliance.”


“The beauty of a well-implemented corporate wellness program is that it will specifically impact the priorities of your company,” says Leah Hammel, director of wellness for Cornerstone Insurance Group. “And jobsite safety should be the No. 1 priority of a construction company.”

Hence, she says, the most effective ones are tailored to limit on-site injuries. Educating employees about safe lifting would be her top recommendation to reduce injury frequency, reduce insurance claims and shorten typical recovery times when an injury does occur.

“A wellness program that brings in a certified personal trainer to spend time with employees is a great place to start,” Hammel says.

Griggs says their program has had a positive impact at McHugh.

“Working in construction is a very physical job,” says Griggs. “The healthier and more physically fit our employees, the more productive and less prone to injury they’ll be. Each day before work begins on our jobsites, our crews perform a 10-minute ‘flex and stretch’ where the team warms up, greatly reducing the risk of injury on the job.”


Wellness means a host of programs, incentives and benefits. At Tocci, employees enjoy Fitbit challenges, encouragement to read and get away from the computer screen and a clean-eating LeanBox Fresh Food and Snack Kiosk as a brilliantly healthy and surprisingly low-priced alternative to the usual candy-and-chips-style vending machine. On-site gyms and other fitness-related incentives make staying motivated easier. They’re also a nice recruiting tool, as young people see these programs as very attractive.

And while all these things keep teams engaged in their own wellness, there’s often a side benefit — lower costs.

“We’ve seen our preventative care increase — cancer screenings, mammograms and pap smears, colonoscopies,” says Sanders, explaining that the points system has helped motivate positive action. “We diagnose earlier and sooner … we’ve seen people on maintenance medications for things like blood pressure and cholesterol rise, diabetics doing insulin and test-strip orders — and those numbers going up has reduced our larger claims.”

Getting on the medication for these things, she points out, is cheaper to treat than a heart attack or stroke. Getting cancer diagnosed at Stage 1 or 2 is not only better for the employee’s health, it’s less expensive.

“Everyone knows they should take care of themselves, but there are so many competing priorities,” says Sanders. “Wellness programs get people engaged; they can motivate employees to make taking care of themselves a higher priority.”


The best programs, says Leah Hammel, director of wellness for the Cornerstone Insurance Group, are built on a promise, one that makes workers confident that the folks at the top mean business when it comes to employees’ well-being. Where do you go from there? Kick-start your company’s commitment to health by following Hammel’s strategic advice.

Lead by example. “A commitment from senior leadership that they will make health and wellness important and take wellness initiatives seriously shows employees that it’s a priority of the company.”

Spread awareness. Providing information about health risks and ample support for behavioral changes that will help employees improve their lifestyles and reduce their risks builds a solid foundation for change.

“This can be done by providing health screenings and an immediate explanation of the results,” says Hammel. “Any at-risk employees should be invited to meet with a health coach to set goals that will reduce risk factors. Resources should be provided to monitor progress and keep employees accountable. Meaningful incentives can also improve participation.”

Assess and adapt. The final pieces are asking for feedback, evaluating results and adjusting your tack accordingly.

“If employees mention that maintaining a healthy diet in the workplace is difficult for them, for example, adjust your policies and offer low-cost health food options in the vending machines and break rooms,” Hammel says.

It’s also important to hear what employees have to say. Evaluate what your company currently offers and analyze how it can be improved once per quarter. For the vending machine example, Hammel suggests setting a timeframe to establish when the new foods will be available to employees, and then evaluating the number of healthy options before and after the initiative.

Know your audience. “A young construction team may need a drastically different strategy than a group that skews older,” Hammel points out. “A group in the south may need different activities than one in the north, depending on weather and time of year.”

Gather and analyze the data to determine what your company’s specific needs are. Engaging with a wellness professional, she says, will help you create a truly customized and unique plan your group will enjoy.

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