In 1905, John Eagan founded Birmingham, Alabama’s American Cast Iron Pipe Company. His vision was to build his business based on a very simple rule: Treat people as you would want to be treated. From the earliest days, Eagan’s company provided equal pay for all workers regardless of race or gender — something almost unheard of in those days. Because bathrooms were a luxury for many, he built a bathhouse with hot and cold running water behind the main building so employees could shower after work. The company offered onsite medical care and hosted frequent social activities. Eagan walked to and from work each day, frequently stopping at employees’ homes to ensure they and their families had everything needed to thrive.
Upon his death, he placed the company in a trust administered by members of management and elected workforce representatives. To this day they share in the profits as well as continue his vision of making employee well-being an integral part of operations.
In the early ‘90s, American took this philosophy to the next level and began formalizing what would become an award-winning wellness program. Sheri Snow (Wellness Manager) has been with the company for over 20 years, but praises her predecessor Rebecca Kelly whose groundbreaking work launched the program in 1993. “Even though Rebecca now is nearby at the University of Alabama, I can always count on her advice whenever I need it.”
American’s WellBody program is open to all 7500 employees, family members, and retirees. Employees and retirees receive a financial incentive attached to the company’s signature screening and health coaching programs. WellBody’s Thrive, Fuel, Go, and Nurture elements include:
Impressive Return on Investment
To measure WellBody’s financial success, American asked University of Alabama researchers to conduct an evaluation spanning 2008-2012. Overall net savings were $361,783 for medical and $316,404 for absenteeism (participants were absent 14-1/2 fewer hours than nonparticipants). Savings from the decrease in health risk, medical costs, and absenteeism provided a 1:7.1 ROI.
Not surprisingly, the study showed a correlation between healthcare costs and employee risk status. Sheri and her team saw a 9% decrease in health risks over time. “As we do the health risk assessment and biometrics screening, we place employees in 1 of 4 risk-stratified categories… called our WellBody Clubs. They receive a health benefit depending on where they score. When employees reach their health goals, they qualify for a discount on their monthly medical premiums.”
The graph shows the movement of employees from very high/high risk to moderate and low risk.
Engaging Employees Where They Work
Sheri emphasizes the importance of taking programs to the employees. “We do a lot of outreach into the workplace, because we simply won’t get the participation we need if we stay in the office. Employees are on the clock and don’t have time to change clothes and come to us. So we put on our hard hats and safety shoes and go to them. Besides our screenings and presentations, sometimes we just show up with bottles of water in July or a case of apples. We sponsor monthly ‘Wellness Wednesday’ awareness fairs in the cafeteria or outside grounds. Such ongoing face-to-face time and easy access have really paid off in terms of participation and our ability to keep our finger on the pulse of the organization.”
Sheri stresses that part of this outreach includes promotions in the company’s weekly newsletter and an ongoing intranet presence, as well as a team of wellness leaders and champions drawn from every department and unit. “They help spread the word on programs and communicate messages. They promote and register people for events. We have 3-4 big meetings each year with our champions where they help us with planning, conducting surveys, and providing feedback on what is or isn’t working and what employees want to see.”
American’s headquarters is in the middle of 5 neighborhoods; Sheri notes the company’s strong commitment of philanthropic service to each. “It’s part of who our company is. We actually have an employee whose job includes being community liaison to help identify opportunities. We have sponsored community gardens, tutored at local schools, and partnered with various associations in fund-raising community events.”
Goals Trickle Down From Top
Sheri works for the Human Resources Director, who reports to the President and CEO, Van Richey. “My supervisor, Julie Shedd, and I meet about every 6 weeks. I update her and then she updates the rest of management, including Mr. Richey. I provide an annual report on activities, outcomes, and any pertinent numbers. I also send her emails and copy Mr. Richey when something particularly important happens, such as when we won the 2014 C. Everett Koop National Health Award.”
Sheri couldn’t ask for a more supportive senior management. Health, wellness, and safety objectives are incorporated into the company’s annual goals. “Mr. Richey sets corporate goals for the upcoming year. Each year he asks for a certain percentage of employee participation in WellBody programs and screenings. We’ve always had a goal of 80% participation in our signature coaching and screening program and even surpassed that goal in 2014. For 2015, Mr. Richey challenged the company to meet a 100% participation goal in our WellBody challenge. That was huge for us! Department goals are then set to support corporate goals. This filters on down to employees who set their personal goals. It’s all integrated and communicated as a company priority. I’ve heard Mr. Richey say in meetings that this program will keep you healthy and help us control expenses. We’d like to think we can help people be the best they can be.”
Sheri admits to being very humbled by American’s winning the Koop award. “We started out with only 1 or 2 people, teaching fitness classes in an auditorium while I taught weight loss classes. We just kept building on our vision. This was our first try at the Koop award and we never dreamed we would win. As a wellness professional, this is the best possible place I could be. To be able to go home at the end of the day knowing I have made an impact in some positive way and maybe even been a blessing in someone’s life… to have all that in one job is great!”