|Pittsfield Growing Employee Wellness Program|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
03:55AM / Monday, September 04, 2017
|The city will hold a grand opening for the new employee wellness center on Sept. 12. The center is in the former IT Department office.|
City employees after a recent fitness workshop.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's health insurance provider is helping transform vacant space in City Hall into a wellness center.
Wellness programs have been a growing trend in the human resources field and Pittsfield is the latest to build one for its employees.
For the last year and a half or so, the Personnel Department has been working with its insurance companies to provide workshops, bring in dietitians, health fairs, and fitness programs. That hits another milestone on Sept. 12 when a new wellness center is opened in the basement of city hall.
"Our employee wellness program has really hit the ground running over the past year. It has been a huge benefit since the city has moved to Blue Cross Blue Shield and MIIA for health insurance. They've been a great partner in helping us implement the program and supporting our needs," Director of Personnel Michael Taylor said.
Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association and Blue Cross have given the city some $6,000 to implement an employee wellness program. The data has shown that companies who provide such programs see a 3-to-1 rate of return through increased productivity and decreased absenteeism, staff turnover, and stress. Additionally, insurance claims impact premiums, so a healthier workforce could lead to lowering costs for both the city and the employees.
"It is a hot topic in HR. More and more organizations, both private and public, are really investing in employee wellness and they are seeing a high rate of return," Taylor said.
The city held some workshops prior to 2016, but when Taylor took over as head of the department, he looked to do more. He met with MIIA and Blue Cross and joined the Well Aware program
the insurance providers offer. The city put out a wellness survey to gather input from the workers, reviewed insurance claim data, and developed a plan.
"It is the full scope of wellness. It is not just physical activity, it is also mental health. We are looking at doing different financial well-being workshops. We are really taking the full scope and going from there, seeing what works and what doesn't work," Taylor said.
On a monthly basis, the city has been holding workshops on such things as healthy cooking or yoga. The city also has online programs employees can follow on their own.
"We try to do one program a month. We have on site workshops and what's call self-directed programs, so like online tracking programs they can do," Taylor said.
But when a dietitian was brought in, they were teaching in a conference room. Taylor set his sights on getting a dedicated spot to run those programs. Last year, the city entered a contest Blue Cross was running with Fitbits. The first 100 employees to register received free Fitbits and steps were tracked over two months. The city with the most steps won. Pittsfield came in second and was awarded $1,000.
From there the partnership with the insurance companies grew and late last year, Blue Cross gave the city $5,000 more to fully implement the wellness program. That money has been mostly focused on turning the former Information Technologies Department office, which was moved upstairs after multiple departments moved to 100 North St., into a wellness center.
"It had been vacant. It is a space that has its own air ventilation system. It was the former IT office. It has been vacant since the offices moved to 100 North and was essentially used as a storage area," Taylor said.
The city will also hold wellness fairs to connect employees with other health and wellness resources in the area.
The city repurposed the space and sought out inexpensive, or free, workout equipment. Now there are free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, yoga mats, medicine balls, and resistance bands filling the space, allowing employees to get some exercise in after work or on lunch break. It will also be the space to hold those workshops and bring in instructors. The city will be launching an eight-week "boot camp" in the coming months as well.
The workshops are all provided by MIIA's Well Aware program. Taylor fields input from employees about what they'd like to do and works with MIIA to set it up. Taylor said the reception has been well, with as many as 40 employees attending a workshop.
"We're getting more and more people interested and wanting to do it," Taylor said.
For Taylor, the particular benefit of having a strong wellness program is the message it sends to employees. The workshops are fun, create stronger bonds between employees, and supports the staff in ways beyond the typical work day.
"For me, the biggest piece of it is supportive engagement. It is a really important aspect for me to assure the employees that they are valued, know they are supported when they are here. I just think this is a great way to show that," Taylor said.
"Having programs like this creates community within our organization, it develops new relationships. We have healthier employees, happier employees. I would hope there would be increased productivity and morale."
Wellness programs are certainly gaining support in business but with the city in tight fiscal constraints, it isn't something that a city budget would likely support. That's where the insurance companies, which have a stake in keeping those they insure healthy, stepped in.
"The fact that we are able to do something like this without using taxpayer money is awesome," Taylor said.