Keene businesses team up to promote employee health

Editor’s note: This is the first in series of articles following the progress, challenges and successes of several businesses in Keene as they take part in a new workplace wellness pilot program.To help control health-care costs and increase employee health and productivity, many New Hampshire businesses are following a national trend to implement workplace wellness programs.In Keene, several businesses, inspired by the efforts around the community-wide Vision 2020 health initiative, and supported by the Cheshire County HEAL partnership, are part of a workplace wellness pilot program that began earlier this year.Funding for the Cheshire County pilot program is provided through a grant from the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) NH campaign.The process began when Cheshire County HEAL partners met with company leadership from True North Networks, Hamshaw Lumber Company, The Cheshire Horse, Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene and Keene Beauty Academy to discuss the environment for supporting employees to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors. In addition, employees completed an Employee Wellness Interest Survey that provided information about their interests in health promotion and health-related activities.Because every worksite is different, workplace wellness assessments take into consideration the type of work done, company size, number of locations, hours of operation, available resources for supporting wellness at the worksite – and, through confidential surveys, information about health risk status and behaviors of employees. “When we talked with HEAL, we took a look at what we were already doing, and it was really motivating that we were already doing healthy activities and realized we could build a program from there,” said Jeanne Chappell, co-owner of Keene Beauty Academy. Chappell, along with Keene Beauty Academy co-owner Kathy Hammond, recognized that most of their 12 employees were already involved in healthy activities, but they decided to start a more formal wellness program to create a supportive environment in which they could “stay healthy and focus on doing it as a group effort.”At Hamshaw Lumber, said Barbara Leatherman, controller of the company, “we have about 100 employees, ranging from 16 to 80 years old. Some work at a desk all day, while others in the lumber yard are much more physically active. We really want them to know that we support their health, so we came up with a short in-house survey to find out what kind of activities and incentives will motivate our employees to participate in a wellness program.” Culture of healthTrue North Networks, one of the first businesses to participate in the pilot program, polled its employees earlier this year to help determine some of the activities and incentives they wanted to see in a workplace wellness program.”Employees seem to like the walking meetings we offer. We are also encouraging walking by tracking our steps for a cause – for every 100,000 steps the company donates $25 to a charity of the employee’s choice. We have donated $650 so far,” said Steven Ryder, president of True North.Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene already had several wellness activities in place, but senior leadership felt it was important to have a more structured program for employees.”As the main health-care organization in the community, we wanted to set an example and show our employees that we care about their health and well-being,” said Jennifer Begley, worksite wellness program manager. “We believe a culture of health in the workplace not only helps stabilize health-care costs, it improves the overall long-term health and morale of our employees.”Workplace wellness programs are as diverse as the companies that offer them and do not have to incur large expenses. Successful wellness programs have commitment from leadership, an understanding of employee needs and interests, employee participation in program design, and a plan to monitor outcomes and make improvements to accommodate changing employee needs.Above all, it is important to creating an environment and culture that encourage employees to make healthy choices. Encouraging lunch breaks, conducting walking meetings, offering healthy items in vending machines, or just replacing that box of doughnuts with a bowl of fruit at meetings can contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of employees.”Just try some things,” Ryder of True North. “It may fail, but don’t give up. My first attempt to get people walking was to purchase all the employees pedometers. It failed, but I just tried something different.”Terry Johnson is director of HEAL NH. For more information and resources for businesses starting a workplace wellness program, contact him at 603-415-4273 or