Corporate Wellness Program Boosts Health, Teamwork
Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon employees hit the streets of downtown Nashville on National Walking Day.
Finding balance has always been stressed at architectural and engineering firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon. The company — headquartered in Nashville and with eight additional offices in Tennessee, Alabama and Ohio — has created a culture that seeks to build the ‘whole professional’ … someone who nurtures both their professional and personal life.
How It Works
The corporate wellness program has a “champion” in each office that advocates for wellness activities and leads employee engagement. In larger offices, there is a wellness committee focused on opportunities to enhance employee health and wellbeing. A wellness chairperson in the Nashville corporate office coordinates with the champions in each satellite office.
In July, BWSC Boot Camp kicked off in the Knoxville office, which is also planning to field a bowling team this fall. In smaller offices, like the one in Birmingham, CEO Bob Higgins said the wellness initiative could help subsidize membership in nearby gyms.
All offices participate in Wellness Month each October. During this awareness month, employees and their families are encouraged to complete a health assessment, get annual physicals, participate in preventive health screenings, and receive firm-sponsored flu shots. Additionally, the month is filled with educational opportunities and activities to promote wellness.
Now in its 57th year of business, the company works on a range of projects nationwide including many for the Department of Defense, NASA, Department of Energy and local municipalities. “We work on some exciting projects. They’re really challenging and can take a lot of hours,” noted BWSC President & CEO Bob Higgins. Therefore, he makes it a priority to talk to every employee about the importance of maintaining a work/life balance.
However, Higgins is also is the first to admit there was a time when he didn’t really heed his own advice. He was named to the top spot in May 2009 during a time when BWSC was restructuring and in the midst of the weakened economy. The net result was a lot of long hours, stress, and eating on the run. Higgins, who is reviewed by the company’s board twice a year, recalled his January 2011 meeting. “Every one of them said, ‘I hope Bob is taking better care of himself.’” Their concern, he continued, started him on a personal journey.
He began attending the Brentwood YMCA Boot Camp and working with trainer Micah Jackson on exercise and nutrition. Using the MyFitnessPal mobile application, Higgins tracked calories, sodium intake, overall diet and activity levels. Through the process, he recovered his sense of balance and lost 60 pounds. He also gained a new appreciation of how taking care of himself gave him more energy to devote to all the other important aspects of his life.
As he went through his personal transformation, employees began asking what he was doing and how it worked. Although BWSC had long had a ‘corporate wellness’ program for the company’s more than 300 employees, Higgins said it really consisted of a one-day health fair and information on the available insurance benefit options. In light of the interest in his journey, Higgins asked Jackson to work with the Human Resources Department to craft a pilot program for the Nashville office.
“We had over 40 people in Nashville sign up for BWSC Boot Camp … one-third of our office,” he said of launching the 13-week program last fall. Blood pressure, weight, measurements, cholesterol levels and more were taken for the participants. While the individual information was kept private, the company received aggregate data. “As engineers, we want to know our numbers. We’re a bunch of nerdy folks … we benchmark everything,” Higgins said with a laugh.
The aggregate numbers have only confirmed what is clearly visible. “We’ve been doing this less than a year,” Higgins noted. “That group of people (pilot participants) has lost over 250 pounds and 200 inches,” he continued, citing the most recent data from late spring 2012.
Even in the height of the economic downturn, Higgins said BWSC had made a commitment to investing in their employees in terms of building leadership and teamwork. “To us, this was a logical next step to invest in our people in personal wellness,” he said. “To love what you do starts with valuing yourself. The company is helping our employees to make the healthier choice the easier choice.”
Building on the success of that pilot, BWSC extended its exercise program, added a weekly yoga at work offering, began participating in local corporate fitness challenges, launched a ‘Lunch and Learn’ series, and encouraged spouses and family members to join in the fun. Higgins noted the company would be participating in the Warrior Dash this month, which is a 5K race with a basic training-style obstacle course included. “That’s something I never thought I’d be doing,” he marveled, “but we believe in leading by example.”
The company is also sponsoring a team in the Dragon Boat Races in October and has been recognized by Mayor Karl Dean for the commitment to employee wellness. In turn, Higgins pointed to the emphasis Mayor Dean and Governor Bill Haslam have put on improving health and prevention as a motivating factor. “When the community and state leaders tell us it’s important, it makes it easy for business leaders to engage in that conversation with employees,” he explained.
Higgins said there have been a multiple benefits as a result of ramping up the corporate wellness initiative. Their latest insurance costs actually dropped a bit. “Not many people can say that in our economy,” he noted. Higgins added some reports show for every dollar invested in wellness programs, companies see a return of $4-6 in terms of decreased absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, and increased productivity.
For BWSC, however, any savings pales in comparison to the camaraderie the program has created. “The team building aspect has been phenomenal,” Higgins said. “That’s a benefit that pays dividends every day.”
Open to all employees, the programming has attracted participants of all ages and job descriptions. Supporting and cheering each other on through the wellness program has positively impacted even the briefest of work interactions and fostered greater employment engagement.
Higgins knows from his own personal journey that the biggest benefit is how much better he and his colleagues feel now. “I get lots of ‘thank-yous,’” he said, adding that employees share what a difference the programming has made in their lives to improve their weight, fitness levels and overall health.
In July, Higgins presented the multifaceted benefits of the Nashville program to the BWSC board. He reported the group approved an investment of more than $100,000 to take wellness to a new level for the company’s 300 employees across all offices.
Although a big outlay, Higgins concluded, “We’d rather live with a couple less points of profit and invest in our people.”