It was early summer of 2016 when UCCS approached Kirkpatrick Bank about partnering in its Workplace Wellness Program through its Center for Active Living, located in the university’s Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences. The university and the bank had collaborated on past projects and Kirkpatrick’s Vice President of Marketing, Cynthia Archiniaco, said the timing couldn’t have been better.

“We had just moved over here to our new location and had taken on new core programs — basic software and hardware that run all banking business. It was hugely stressful,” she said. “This team, which has  always been close-knit and fun and friendly together, was stressed out. They were not happy with each other or with life.”

Best-kept secret

Mary Ann Kluge said the Lane Center is one of the “best-kept secrets” in Colorado Springs.

Kluge, a professor at the UCCS Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, was one of the leads on the Workplace Wellness Program.

She, along with Paige Whitney, director of the Center for Active Living, said the impact of Kirkpatrick’s partnership was threefold: The center was able to test its program and refine it going forward; Kirkpatrick’s workforce saw significant health and productivity improvements; and undergraduate and graduate students at UCCS received hands-on training in fields in which they will one day work professionally.

“There were basically two phases of the program,” Kluge said. “In the first phase, people intensely engage in services, physical activity, nutrition and health coaching, which would be setting goals in a holistic way about health and wellness.”

– Advertisement –

The second piece, Kluge said, is how participants “launch into their lives” and manage their time and resources using components learned during the first phase.

“We called it a pilot project because we were experimenting with a new model and new population,” Kluge said. “Small business wellness is really needed. But in the literature, research-wise — there’s little research in this area of programming for smaller businesses.”

But Kluge and Archiniaco agreed that the pilot program was different from most workplace wellness initiatives and that’s why 100 percent of Kirkpatrick’s 16 employees, as well as its board of directors, participated to some degree.

“A lot of health programs, the goals are lose weight, do this, do that … their goals were much more about just being healthy without so much a focus on weight loss,” Archiniaco said. “That might be a benefit, but the real benefit was improved cardiovascular health and taking care of chronic diseases.

“It came at a great time, actually. They made it clear this wasn’t like Weight Watchers,” she said. “They were advocating for overall health and mind-body connections.”

Kluge said what set the piloted model apart is it “started with a conversation. We don’t start with poking and prodding.”

Participants had access to health coaches, nutritionists, cooking and fitness classes and biometric screenings, but goals were left to Kirkpatrick employees.

The results were eye-opening.

“We had a drastic improvement in sick days,” Archiniaco said. “And, it’s not documented, but I know anecdotally that people’s use of benefits to episodically treat things also went down.”

Because of the program, she said productivity has increased and health insurance costs will remain static in 2018, “which is almost unheard of.”

“There are a lot of outcomes people don’t normally think about, nor did we think about that,” she said. “We’re not a huge group and it was nice because typically you can’t find programs for companies that are small.”

Buying time

Corporate or workplace wellness programs are not new concepts, and their benefits have been touted for years. Studies have shown these health initiatives save companies money through reduced absenteeism and health insurance costs. But researchers are still finding ways employee health impacts performance in the workplace.

According to an August 2017 article published at sciencedaily.com, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of California, Riverside, and UCLA have quantified productivity results for employees who participate in workplace wellness programs.

“This improvement was dramatic: approximately equal to an additional productive [workday] per month for the average worker,” according to the findings.

Sciencedaily.com states nearly 90 percent of companies use some form of corporate wellness programs, “with the most comprehensive offering biometric health screenings, nutritional programs, fitness classes, and educational seminars on topics ranging from smoking cessation to work-life balance.”

The article also pointed to a recent analysis that found each dollar spent on wellness programs saves $3.27 in health care costs and $2.73 in absenteeism costs.

And Whitney said, if done properly, workplace wellness initiatives can be very effective because employees are “a captive audience.”

“People are reporting there day after day,” she said. “You’re more likely to get others engaged.

“Plus, stress is more prominent in the workplace. More people are sitting at desks because of technology. There are poorer food choices being made because of the work setting.”

Moving forward, Whitney is working on program models to offer other businesses, from comprehensive packages to an “a la carte menu” of services through the Center for Active Living. The programs should be defined sometime in early 2018, she said. The center is providing similar services to the city of Colorado Springs as a subcontractor through wellness-management company Healthy You.

Kirkpatrick paid $20,000 during the year it collaborated with the Center for Active Living for use of its services, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the cost for all businesses in the future, Whitney said.

Archiniaco added, while it was a significant investment, the bank wasn’t overly concerned with its return.

“We were a test bunny and happy to be a test bunny,” she said. “We knew doing nothing wasn’t going to help us out and maybe this would. It was totally a faith-driven ‘yes’ on our part. We trusted they knew what they were doing.”

Paige Whitney (left) is director of the UCCS Lane Center’s Center for Active Living. Mary Ann Kluge is a professor and former director.
Paige Whitney (left) is director of the UCCS Lane Center’s Center for Active Living. Mary Ann Kluge is a professor and former director.

Workforce first

One of the least visible benefits of the Center for Active Living’s Workplace Wellness Program is its workforce impact. Undergraduate and graduate-level students participate in all aspects, earning on-the-job training before commencement.

“Our first goal is to prepare the future workforce,” Kluge said, adding there are additional benefits to being university-affiliated, including access to the latest research, a learning lab that focuses on new models of workplace wellness and the ability to quickly expand programs because of access to an eager workforce — the UCCS student body.

“The reason we will be able to offer high capacities is because of the students,” Kluge said. “Some of our graduate students do their research projects in this area. As a community resource, getting students involved and seeing the practical applications are huge.”

Archiniaco said the educational component was one reason Kirkpatrick committed to the pilot program.

“[The students] were great,” she said. “We worked seamlessly with them — whether students or faculty.”

Archiniaco said, months after the program officially ended, employees still use health initiative credits through Kirpatrick to visit fitness coaches or participate in exercise classes at the Lane Center.

“At the end of the deal everyone went back through the same biometric exam that they did at the front end to measure improvements. It came in very nice,” she said. “But we had our own assessment, which is not measurable, and that was the healing in the culture of our organization and the attitude of the employees in terms of their overall happiness — not only here but with their lives in general. And it gave us the power to get through a huge stressor and not lose it as a team — or individually.”

For more information on the Center for Active Living’s Workplace Wellness Program, contact Whitney at pwhitney@uccs.edu.

https://www.csbj.com/2017/12/15/uccs-hopes-expand-wellness-workplaces/