Seeing models of wellness in corporate leadership spurs employees to get on board.

Seeing models of wellness in corporate leadership spurs employees to get on board.

When Mike Lukemire decided to make some healthy lifestyle changes, he looked to the American Heart Association. He liked their wellness program because walking was at the heart of it.

“Walking is something everyone can do,” says the ScottsMiracle-Gro president and COO, who became so enamored of the benefits of walking that he chaired the central Ohio association’s Heart Walk in 2016.

While he saw potential for himself and his associates to become healthier, he felt strongly that he would need to go public with his attempt to get fit. “It has to be authentic,” he says. “People have got to see me out on the track walking, see me in the gym in the morning.”

And he was right.

Heart association studies have found that the participation of senior leaders in wellness programs dramatically increases their success rates. Associates also like to see their bosses showing concern for their own health as well as the rest of the company, the study found.

Lukemire and the heart association have seen how healthier associates and workplaces positively impact numerous aspects of the business. Successful wellness programs can lead to increased employee engagement, better productivity and reduced healthcare costs, says Jennifer Hauck, senior vice president of development for the American Heart Association.

“Employees are an organization’s most valuable asset and the research is well established: Healthy employees are happier and more productive. It is also clear that workplace health programs accomplish just that,” Hauck says. “What is even more telling is the significant increase in employee participation when their senior executives lead by example and participate as well.”

Employers who feel encouraged by senior managers to participate in workplace health programs are nearly twice as likely to report improved health, according to a 2014 heart association study.

When company leaders are seen spending time in the gym or walking across the campus, it sends the message that being healthy matters, says Gilberto Quintero who ischief quality and regulatory affairs officerat Cardinal Health.

It also lets associates know that it’s acceptable to leave your desk to do it, he says. “It’s definitely a mindset. We’re saying it’s OK,” he says. “Healthy living is part of our DNA as a company.”

Focusing on healthy habits in the workplace is good for everyone, according to the heart association.

Numerous studies have shown that unhealthy employees cost companies time and money, Hauck says. One study pegs the cost of moderately or extremely obese workers at $506 in lost productivity per worker, per year. Another study estimates that indirect costs of lost productivity can be between two and three times the value of direct medical costs, Hauck says.

Research also shows companies that pump money into high-quality wellness programs will see a return on their investment of between $1.20 and $3.27 per dollar invested, Hauck says. Other studies have found wellness programs reduce average healthcare costs by about $30 per member per month, she says.

“The bottom line is, more and more Americans spend a great deal of time at work, and if we want healthier employees and ultimately healthier communities, providing a culture of health in the workplace with participation from the top down is essential to improving both heart and overall health,” she says.

In addition to “obvious positives like lower health-related costs such as fewer lost hours and lower insurance premiums,” State Auto has seen other benefits of promoting good health, says CEO MikeLaRocco,who will chair the 2017 Central Ohio Heart Walk.

“The real gain is that when our associates focus on exercise, getting enough sleep and healthy eating habits, they come to work more energized, creative and happy,” he says. “These characteristics allow them to more effectively contribute to our team goals.”

At Scotts, Lukemire has lost 50 pounds and found that his efforts are inspiring others. “I get little notes from people saying, ‘If you can do it, I can do it, too,” says Lukemire, who has a treadmill desk in his office. He also has seen employees become more engaged with their jobs and the company.

“Turnover is way down,” he says. “People don’t leave. It’s because of our culture.”

Lukemire embraced the heart association’s recommendations by exercising and improving his diet. He also made sure employees understood that it is OK to make time to exercise during the work day.

Currently, more than half of the company’s associates belong to the Le Herron Wellness Center located on its Marysville campus, which also includes an associate park with a pool, volleyball and tennis courts and walking trails. The fitness center is a 24,000-square-foot facility that offers state-of-the-art fitness and medical services along with an onsite pharmacy.

Lukemire, who invites anyone in the company to come to his office between 8 and 8:30 a.m. to talk about ideas or concerns, moved Friday sessions to the track. Now he hosts weekly “Walks with Luke,” encouraging associates to join him on the track. The walks, which sometimes include vendors or community members, underscore the value he puts on exercise.

The changes at Scotts tell associates that senior leaders want more than a healthy bottom line, he says. They want a healthy workforce, too. The policies demonstrate that “we genuinely care about our associates,” he says. “We value everybody. This is our extended family.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is afreelance writer.