When I look back at the first corporate wellness initiative I coordinated from 2008 to 2014, I can’t help but smile a sigh of relief at how it turned out.
Given the unforeseeable challenges that Larimer County faced during those “start-up” years, it very well could have – perhaps even should have – failed.
In the Red!
Larimer County went self-insured in 2005. For three years in a row, the budget fell short and Human Resources had to request additional funding to break even. In 2007, the Commissioners told HR it would be the LAST time they’d be bailed out. And thus, the 1st challenge had begun…
Because healthy plan members and wise health care consumerism would help save and hopefully fuel the long-term success of the self-insured medical insurance plan, HR decided to launch a wellness program and hire someone to coordinate it. Wynette Reed, the HR Director at the time, invited me to her office a few days after I interviewed for the position. She said I was their top candidate but was worried I might be too young and inexperienced for the task. She also told me the story about the commissioners (no pressure or anything). I must have been feeling brave, because this is what I said…
“I’ve never done anything half-ass in my life. So, if you hire me, I promise I won’t let you down.”
(When you swear to your future boss, you remember it word for word.) She laughed that confident laugh of hers and offered me the job. I accepted, and on January 28, 2008, I officially became part of the County’s Benefits team.
With the help of amazing wellness committees, we surveyed the 1500 employees and, based on their input, started to design a program to meet their needs. In January 2009, the Body and Mind (BAM) wellness program was officially up and running, complete with health risk assessments, screenings, education, exercise classes, campaigns, flu shots, a health fair, and incentives. 36% of employees earned a day off or $150 for their ongoing participation in the first year, but we’d soon have to raise the bar in order to compete with the next challenge…
The Great Recession.
Between 2009 and 2012, there was a hiring freeze, downsizing, and no raises. There was little to keep spirits high as the County and employees were facing the effects of the economic decline… except that is, for the additional wellness benefits that were added.
- In November of 2009 Larimer County opened an employer-sponsored medical clinic for members of the medical insurance plan. Eligible employees could use the clinic on paid time for primary care purposes without any additional cost, and their family members could, too. Because of the clinic model and ability to get employees back to work efficiently, the County more than broke even on their investment.
- In 2010 and 2011, our third-party administrator also agreed to let us add chiropractic, massage, and lifestyle management services to our plan, as well as reimburse for Weight Watchers and other evidence-based weight-management programs. In addition, employees received a half or full month premium holiday for participating in a health risk assessment.
Things were getting exciting! Employee participation and satisfaction with the BAM program, onsite clinic, and medical insurance plan were on the rise, use of preventive services were increasing, and health risks were decreasing. But it wasn’t long before the wind was taken out of our sails again. On June 9, 2012, the County was literally struck with arguably its biggest challenge yet…
The High Park Fire.
The 2nd largest fire in Colorado History, it burned over 87,000 acres. The HR Director and County Manager were stretched to their max, as were the majority of employees. Mental health was a concern – evident by employee morale and medical insurance claims – and the Benefits team was asked to help.
Wanting to avoid the often overdone and shallow stress management efforts, I proposed doing a “Positive Difference Campaign” based on Shawn Achor’s Happy Secret to Better Work Ted Talk and principles of positive psychology. It was well received, with over 700 people signing up… our largest campaign enrollment ever. The Ted Talk spurred smiles, laughter, and conversation in many department meetings and white boards displayed employees’ words of gratitude. By the end…
- 76% of finishers said they had a more positive perspective and over half said they were happier and had improved their ability to cope with stress.
- Nearly 40% said they decreased their stress and had more energy.
- Others reported sleeping better, improving their BMI, eating better, exercising more, and even quitting smoking.
Meanwhile, the Benefits team received approval to hire a full-time wellness coach at the employer-sponsored health clinic… someone who could help with various aspects of heath, including mental health. Plus, we received permission to finally tie health care premiums to employee health… something employees had asked for in that initial survey back in 2008. If at least one plan member (employee or spouse) achieved three out of six healthy scores on their health risk assessment, their monthly medical insurance premium was reduced by $40, saving them $480 annually. With this new “wellness rate,” as it was called, I felt like the County’s wellness initiative was truly coming together.
It was then that I was faced a big decision. Do I return to work full time per the County’s request? Or do I continue to stay at home with my kids part-time?
I chose the latter… for a few reasons. One, I felt called to put family first. Two, I considered it the nudge I needed to start my own business. And three, the County was in a good spot and good hands….
- 56% were participating in BAM year-round.
- 70% were engaged in the onsite clinic.
- The majority were receiving the wellness rate.
- They had a strong HR team, progressive leaders, supportive middle managers, committed committee members, helpful IT staff, smart interns, and hard-working employees who embraced wellness, took on challenges, and stepped it up when the organization needed them most.
I knew that with or without me, Larimer County would continue to “fall up.”
Shawn Achor writes the following in his book, The Happiness Advantage:
“Success is about more than simple resilience. It’s about USING that downward momentum to propel ourselves in the opposite direction. It’s about capitalizing on setbacks and adversity to become even happier, even more motivated, and even more successful. It’s not falling down, it’s falling up.”
And so, six years to the day after I started at Larimer County – I finished at Larimer County. I consider myself blessed to have been a part of their momentum and like to think – as I breath my sigh of relief – that I kept my “half-ass” promise.
Liz served as Wellness Benefits Coordinator for Larimer County, Colorado from 2008 to 2014 before founding Well Simplified LLC and creating Mind.Set.Goal!
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