Well? How’s it going?

Published 11:56 am Monday, March 25, 2013

Alliance Benefit Group has gained a reputation for workplace wellness, which in turn has attracted applicants who wish to work there. --Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Alliance Benefit Group has gained a reputation for workplace wellness, which in turn has attracted applicants who wish to work there. –Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Workplace wellness is a trend among  Albert Lea companies

Five years have passed since Albert Lea first started seriously thinking about health and longevity, and some worksites in the city are still concerned about their employees’ health and wellness.

Alliance Benefit Group is one of the workplaces in Albert Lea that has kept motivating its employees to better their health. Kellie Jordahl is on the wellness committee at ABG and said the company has kept up its goal of promoting healthy living to its employees. As well as doing competitions, the company also helps employees by offering a host of preventative tests.

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“Annually we do biometric testing that the company pays for,” Jordahl said.

Biometric testing includes checks for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and more. Jordahl said a nice thing about the testing is that it’s offered also to the employee’s spouse if they’re covered under ABG’s insurance. Last year, 130 employees or spouses participated in the tests. The goal is to let people know if they are at risk for serious diseases. Jordahl said a popular incentive was ABG’s weight-loss competition that mocks the TV show “The Biggest Loser.”

One of ABG’s employees who participated was Jennifer Gilderhus, a flexible accounts administrator, who has worked at the company for almost two years. She started the company’s biggest loser competition in July of 2012.

“It was a three-month program,” Gilderhus said. “We would weigh in every Monday.”

About a third of ABG’s employees participated, and each paid $25. Then the person who lost the most percentage of weight at the end won the money that everyone had chipped in. Gilderhus placed in second, and lost 23 pounds. The competition measured percentage of weight lost, and Gilderhus lost to the first-place finisher by 0.5 percent.

“That was very depressing,” Gilderhus said with a laugh. “But health-wise I felt totally different.”

She said she felt much healthier after watching what she ate and keeping a food journal. The company also had other initiatives where employees could get together once a week and do yoga or dodgeball. Most employees participate in wellness groups, where all the employees split up and the groups compete for small prizes or being able to wear jeans to work. The people in each group keep track of how much water they drank, or if they’re eating fruits and vegetables. A point system decides the winner.

ABG is holding a second biggest loser competition, and Gilderhus said she’s happy to be participating again. There’s camaraderie between participants, and Gilderhus said people share recipes and weight-loss ideas that worked.



One of the most noticeable changes at worksites in the community has been the advent of more smoke-free campuses. The Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce has a worksite wellness committee, and Executive Director Randy Kehr said having more tobacco-free worksites has been a goal of the committee.

In 2009, just 4 percent of the workforce in Freeborn County worked on tobacco-free worksites. Now, 25 percent of workers in the county work on tobacco-free campuses.

“I’m really proud of our worksite wellness committee,” Kehr said. “They work really hard.”

There are 14 member businesses represented on the committee. One of those is Alamco. Its human resources director, Melissa Sexton, sits on the committee, and she’s also the wellness coordinator for Alamco. The company went smoke-free in 2011, and Sexton said employees responded well to the change.

“There were a few that were affected, but they respected the change and if they want to partake they just leave our property,” Sexton said. “It’s gone very well.”

Sexton said the company also has activities for employees who are on break like a basketball hoop and bean bag toss. There’s also more fresh fruit and healthy snacks than donuts.

“We try to cut back on all those sweets,” Sexton said. “It’s been a general initiative.”


Wellness as a whole

A few companies are leaders in trying to get employees to stop smoking, eat healthier and be more active. One of those is Freeborn-Mower Cooperative. Judy Jensen, the company’s payroll and financial accountant, is its wellness coordinator. She said they’ve had a wellness program for years, but just in the last five years there’s been more of a focus.

“Every year we do biometric testing and turn it into a mini wellness fair,” Jensen said.

In addition to the testing, the company brings in various professionals like a dietitian, masseuse or fitness instructor. Last year, a Zumba instructor came and Jensen said most of the employees tried out the dance exercise.

Another initiative is fresh fruit on Fridays, where the company offers fresh fruit to its employees one Friday each month. There’s also a scale at the office where employees can weigh themselves if they wish.

Freeborn-Mower also offers a points system where employees can earn points by getting healthy numbers on their biometric tests or by competing in local fitness activities like the Tiger Trot or Relay for Life.

“The points are an incentive that turns into cash,” Jensen said.

Jensen said the wellness program is supported by its CEO and board of directors. Its next wellness fair will be Feb. 28, and Jensen said the wellness initiative is something the employees seem to like.

“It’s a way that people that are actually doing healthy things or are healthy can be rewarded,” Jensen said.

Mrs. Gerry’s in Albert Lea is another company that has created a wellness program. It’s facilitated by its human resources assistant, Erin Sauer. Sauer said the company started working on wellness for its employees because of rising health care costs.

“We’re working on changing the culture and changing their mindset,” Sauer said.

The company has done weight-loss competitions, walking programs, given out healthy cooking recipes and more. In a storage area, they measured a walking loop so that employees who choose to walk will know how far they’ve gone. Sauer said the vending machines have had a bit of an upgrade as well. Though there is still the traditional vending machine fare, there are now a few more healthy options like baked potato chips.

“We used to do doughnuts once a month for our group meetings and now we’ve switched to every other month,” Sauer said. “And for the people who want to eat healthier we have string cheese, yogurt and fruit.”

Through all the competitions and initiatives it can be hard to measure success, but Sauer said she thinks more employees have more knowledge about how to be healthy.

“We’ve had several people who made small changes that add up to a big change,” Sauer said. “We’ve seen a lot of people who are eating healthier or walking more.”