Guest Column | July 29, 2014

Happy, Healthy Operators: A Water Provider's Guide To Wellness


By Anna Obermesik and Mandy Cawby, WaterOne

All companies want to attract and retain a high-performance work force. Employee wellness programs are a great opportunity to position your organization as an employer of choice while pumping the brakes on rising insurance premiums. Kansas water provider WaterOne is one example of an employer that is using its wellness program to add value.

WaterOne is an independent, non-profit water utility serving over 400,000 customers in the Kansas City metro area. For the second year in a row, the Kansas City Business Journal has named WaterOne a “Healthiest Employer” due to the strength of its wellness program — WellnessOne. This award signifies what WaterOne has long known: Balanced wellness promotes a high-performance work force, which serves the needs of its customers.

WaterOne’s five strategy approach can be replicated in virtually any organization in the water industry.

  1. Awareness

“Knowledge is power, so we offer employees onsite biometric screenings,” says wellness coordinator Becky Bryan. “Employees get immediate, personal results to identify and track health risks, including those not already diagnosed.”

Screenings are paired with an online health risk assessment. The confidential assessment flags areas of concern and provides suggested action steps to prevent or manage medical conditions. WellnessOne also offers screening opportunities at its an annual Employee Day, including hearing, vision, bone density, body fat, blood pressure, carotid artery, flexibility, fitness age, and spine.

 “Awareness is also what we model in the office environment,” says Bryan. “Most WaterOne vending machines, company meetings, and company luncheons have healthy options.”

WaterOne introduced a partnership with Fresh2Desk, a fresh fruit and vegetable delivery company that delivers curated boxes of produce at work to WaterOne’s subscribed employees. A similar service, farm co-op, or community-supported agriculture (CSA) may be available in your area.

  1. Education

“Wellness is education that inspires action,” says Bryan. “We give employees information to help them understand health risks and how to achieve their personal health goals.”

WellnessOne provides monthly wellness newsletters, self-care publications, wellness books, resources through the company’s intranet, and quarterly Lunch n’ Learns. Recent seminar topics included heart healthy living, sleep and good health, back health, fitting fitness into your lifestyle, and cancer.

Stress management is a key topic in the wellness newsletter and brown bag seminars. Employees learn about work/life balance and healthy strategies for managing stress. Walking outdoors is a natural stress buster. WaterOne’s administrative campus features a paved walking path that loops the perimeter of the property. During the work day, employees take a quick loop around the path for fresh air and sunshine to relieve stress, clear the mind, and boost energy.

  1. Empowerment

“If awareness and information have inspired employees to improve their health, the WellnessOne program wants to provide opportunities to take action,” says Bryan.

Make behavior change more convenient. WaterOne offers an onsite fitness center with basic weights and treadmills as well as locker rooms with showers to make it convenient to squeeze in a workout before, after, or during the work day.

“We also find that competition can be a strong motivator, so we provide friendly competitions such as walking challenges,” says Bryan.

Telephone health coaching is provided by WaterOne’s insurer to support success in tobacco cessation, weight management, nutrition/meal planning, or exercise. The disease management component helps employees manage their covered conditions (i.e. asthma, diabetes, COPD, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and hypertension) with a goal of improving their health and quality of life.

  1. Incentives

“For many employees, a ‘carrot’ is a positive motivator,” says Bryan. “When employees have a self-interest for participating in WellnessOne, they make it a priority and achieve better results.”

Many WellnessOne activities include nominal prize giveaways as incentive to participate such as onsite blood drives, flu shots, benefit fair, walking challenges, completing health coaching, etc. However, the big incentive is a reduced rate on premiums for successfully participating in WellnessOne. Employees and covered spouses receive reduced rates on medical premiums when:

  • They participate in the biometric screenings and complete the health risk assessment;
  • They are tobacco-free or complete an authorized tobacco cessation program; and
  • They participate in at least four WellnessOne activities during the plan year.

In addition, WaterOne’s medical carrier offers a rewards program designed to reward employees for healthy activities, which are tracked online for points. Points are redeemed for gift cards to more than 350 retail merchants.

  1. Measurement

Track your participation. This year to date in WellnessOne, 79 percent completed a health risk assessment, 75 percent completed the tobacco free/authorized tobacco cessation class, and 86 percent already completed the required WellnessOne activities.  To ensure the program continues to develop as a valuable offering for employees, the WellnessOne coordinator solicits employee written evaluations at activities and events with the option of anonymity.

“A strong wellness program adds value to our benefits package and it gives us an edge when we’re competing for the best employees,” says Bryan. “We see benefits to morale and productivity as well as competitive costs on medical premium rates.”

Authors: Anna Obermesik, HR Intern, and Mandy Cawby, Communications Manager. Find WaterOne online at Follow WaterOne on Facebook and Twitter @MyWaterOne.