SWVA company taking forward approach to employee wellness

Article 9/11 in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce written series by United Way of Southwest Virginia.

September 4, 2017 (Chilhowie, VA) – A healthy workforce is a stable workforce. Workplace wellness programs are not just a benefit – they could save employers money, create a culture where workers feel like valued members of the team, and attract the new generation of employees.

Workplace wellness programs can include exercise programs, weight control, smoking cessation assistance, nutrition education, stress management, injury-prevention, and lifestyle assessments, and they’re becoming a common benefit in the United States workforce. Nationally, 41 percent of workers have access to wellness programs through their employers, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor report in 2016.

Wellness specialist Linda Stollings coaches employee Ryan Odum in the gym at Berry Home Centers.

Berry Enterprises, a Southwest Virginia based company, falls within that 41 percent. Berry Enterprises operates Berry Home Centers, one of the region’s leading independent locally-owned building materials suppliers with locations in Abingdon, Virginia and Chilhowie, Virginia. They also operate Berry Iron and Metal recycling center in Chilhowie and the Recycle West Virginia center in Princeton, West Virginia.

As a benefit to all of their employees, Berry Enterprises has partnered for almost six years with a company called Fit Prescriptions to manage wellness programs in each of Berry’s five locations. Linda Stollings, the founder and wellness specialist for Fit Prescriptions, and her daughter Allie, one of two other wellness specialists, administer the workplace wellness program at Berry’s to nearly 150 employees.

Linda Stollings said, “When it comes to benefits of a wellness program, studies have shown that employees are more alert mentally and more productive at work. They take fewer sick days, insurance claims go down, and they catch the bug of wellness. It really does in the long run, save everybody time and money, but most of all, we want these employees to feel better.”

About six years ago, when owners Tom and Kyra Bishop invited Fit Prescriptions to begin the wellness program at Berry, many employers across the country were thinking about how to keep their aging workforce healthy. Stollings said, “Companies at this point are focused on keeping their current employees healthy, but also adding benefits for the next generation. The next generation coming in – wellness is a large part of their lifestyle, and they are looking for flexible work – a place that has a gym or a health coach on site.”

Wellness specialist Linda Stollings consults with employee Lynne Denney in the gym at Berry Home Centers.

The wellness program offered to Berry employees is individualized to the company culture and to each employee. Stollings said, “A lot of companies have what they call a wellness program. They’ll hand you a flyer and say to do what’s written on it for the next year. They’ll tell you your cholesterol was a little high, and then they say to work on it and they’ll touch base with you in a year or so. That strategy is not at all what our wellness programs look like.”

The program was met with skepticism at first. “People don’t like for you to tell them what to do,” Stollings said, “and that’s what they think a wellness program is. But with our program, we’re not telling them what to do. We are listening to them. We are offering them an opportunity to feel better, to take less medication, to have a great wellness checkup where their doctor says, ‘Your blood pressure is down. Your stress levels are down. Your cholesterol is better. Your arthritis is better. What are you doing?’ The doctor is impressed, and the patient is completely changed. We can only get to that point if we sit down and actually get to know the employees, and involve them in their own solutions.”

Berry has a high participation rate in the wellness program, which Stollings says is due to top-down leadership. She said, “The owners of this company are shining examples of wellness. If you know Tom and Kyra Bishop, you know they live it. They breathe it. And they know that wellness is not just physical fitness. They really value the relationship part of this program with face-to-face accountability. They really care about their employees.”

Every 6 months, Berry employees see their wellness specialist, either Linda or Allie, for a fitness assessment where they set and follow up on individual goals – physical, mental, spiritual, and nutritional – and review their annual blood work.

Stollings said, “These are goals for work and goals for home. We believe that lifestyle changes in behaviors can alleviate almost every chronic disease out there. I ask them things about their goals like, ‘Did you clean out your garage?’ ‘Did you move all those boxes out of your home office?’ ‘Are you sleeping better?’ We provide accountability, we provide motivation, and we build relationships with our people and see them at a minimum two to three times a year.”

In addition to the six-month assessments, Berry’s wellness program includes toolbox talks, access to an on-site gym or a discounted gym membership, health insurance benefits, injury prevention trainings, group activities, and a quarterly newsletter.

The toolbox talks, similar to lunch-and-learn workshops, occur four to six times a year and have covered topics like stress reduction, mental health, and blood pressure. The talks are offered on a staggered schedule, and are recorded and made available for employees who are unable to attend.

Wellness specialist Linda Stollings coaches employee Lynne Denney in the gym at Berry Home Centers.

Gyms are available on-site for employees and their families at the Chilhowie and Abingdon locations, and a discounted gym membership is offered for Princeton, West Virginia employees. Stollings said, “I have a couple of folks here that will check out their time clock, go in to the gym, work out, and then check back in. They do it on their own time. They can meet with us or just come and walk on the treadmill.

As far as health insurance benefits go, the wellness program offers health savings accounts, a free annual exam each year, and rewards for healthy habits and activities.

The injury prevention program that Stollings calls “pre-habilitation” is about being proactive to keep employees safe and healthy. She says that one back injury can cost a company sixty to seventy thousand dollars. “Nobody wants to be sick, nobody wants to be injured. And if we can do things to prevent that, why do we not?”

Berry Enterprises has also participated in group activities for over five years including training and participating in 5k races, which Stollings said brought 75 employees and family members out to the event. And each year at Christmas, employees participate in 12 Days of Fitness, complete with company support and incentives.

As the final part of the wellness program, Stollings publishes a newsletter to keep the employees in all five locations in the know about success stories from their coworkers and updates from the wellness program.

Stollings said, “We have had some great success stories. One of our employees lost 70 or 80 pounds, he came off of his diabetic medication, he came off his blood pressure medication, and it’s been 4 years and he’s kept that weight off. He’s made a complete lifestyle change. I have one Berry’s employee right now that’s started walking every day at lunch. I called him the other day when it was raining and said, ‘Get your umbrella!’ So, we keep up with them. We’re their coaches and they need encouragement. We try to be their best encouragers. Honestly, it helps so much to know that you have someone on your team in your corner, with no judgement – just trying to be helpful. You know, hopefully, we’re touching everybody’s lives in a positive way.”

Article 9/11. The written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series was created by United Way of Southwest Virginia. The introductory article was released in May 2017, with nine articles to be released online on the first and third Sundays from May-September, and published in various print publications across the region. Each of the nine articles will share the stories of local workers around topics that specifically affect Southwest Virginia such as local livable-wage jobs, local innovation, the value of working at an early age, the uniqueness of the community college system, and combining passion with skill. The last article will provide an overview of actions being taken by United Way of Southwest Virginia to bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work to strengthen the workforce of tomorrow. To keep up with the full series of articles, or for more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia’s initiatives to equip tomorrow’s workforce, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.

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About United Way of Southwest Virginia
United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.