Why Walking Matters to Employees

Dec. 22, 2011
SKF USA, Inc.'s walking program led participants to have more energy, feel healthier and have better morale.

Consider the following: disengaged workers are costing U.S. businesses a whopping $350 billion every year. With this type of extreme loss, it is critical to find ways to generate and sustain employee engagement.

The high cost has not improved since then and a recent report found that "employee absenteeism costs $153 billon a year" which also impacts engagement and productivity. "However, employees and employers have the opportunity to potentially increase productivity if they address the health issues that are currently plaguing the workplace."

According to the report, one unhealthy day per month is equivalent to about 0.31 actual missed workdays. Unhealthy days, and thus work lost with sick leave paid, increases significantly as the number of chronic conditions increases. These chronic conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, depression and other physical pain ailments.

Chronic diseases cause 7 in 10 deaths each year in the United States and account for more than 75% of all health care costs according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The good news is that most of these chronic conditions are preventable and a well designed wellness program with an activity component can help employees make better lifestyle changes that will dramatically impact their overall health.

We have found that an effective and measurable walking program can see participation rates of more than 50% of eligible employee, and companies can maintain high year-over-year retention rates, all resulting in improved employee health and wellbeing.

Participant surveys of these programs report back with 94% of respondents saying they "love this program and would recommend it to someone else." Such engagement and satisfaction are the results of an improved wellness culture, measurable outcomes, and built-in fun that engages and motivates.

SKF USA, Inc. is a manufacturer who is having success with their walking program. This global supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics, and lubrication systems and services began a walking-wellness program as a 3-month pilot to see what would happen. The results were so positive that they have expanded beyond the initial four locations to 40 across the U.S. and Canada.

According to Raymond L. Eames III, director of benefits for SKF USA Inc., the goal was simple. He knew that a sedentary lifestyle could contribute to severe chronic health problems for his employees, so he wanted to "initiate a wellness program to help our employees be more active and feel healthier." Eames wanted to show his employees that SKF cared about them and their wellbeing. "Offering this program made a lot of sense to us," he said. "It was easy for everyone to participate and walking has the lowest dropout rate of any exercise regimen."

SKF also included a custom marketing program to enroll union employees and eligible spouses. "We didn't want to exclude any of our employees from a wellness program and to our surprise, we had more union employees participate than we thought would" said Eames. "In addition, even though our program only provided prizes to employees, we had 246 spouses participate in the pilot, which far exceeded our expectations."

The SKF walking program features included a USB-pedometer for accurate tracking, competitions among the participating plants, and a series of virtual walk challenges, including a walk from Miami to the Florida Keys and along California's Pacific Coast Highway.

The results were as follows:

  • 48% participation of eligible employees within the four locations, which is significant considering 37% of the total eligible were union employees.
  • Overall, participants averaged 7,971 steps per day (American average 5,117 steps/day), and of those:
    • 24% averaged more than 10,000 steps
    • 74% averaged more than 6,000 steps
    • 66%of those indicating they were sedentary before starting the program shifted to being active

Results from the participant survey also showed improvement:

  • 60% said they felt healthier.
  • 65% said they had more energy
  • 78% said morale toward the company increased
  • Over 72% said pedometer walking has become a permanent lifestyle change
  • Over 80% said the program increased camaraderie with fellow employees
  • Over 98% said they would recommend the walking program to friends and family.

In 2011, SKF rolled out to 40 U.S. and Canadian locations and employees and spouses are walking a million steps over the course of 200 days. Along with the inherent health benefits, employees could walk away with a tech toy or up to $2,500 cash. SKF will also make $6,000 worth of donations to local charities for the top five SKF USA Inc. locations that have the highest step average or show the most step improvement.

SKF USA, Inc. is not alone in their success. Through a variety of customized wellness portals and programs -- USB pedometers to track validated steps, an active social media network, and interactive food and body trackers -- companies can experience measurable results and engage participants in a feature-rich community.

The benefits of these walking programs work both ways. Employees can engage in some fun at the workplace while getting into the exercise habit. As with SKF USA, Inc., corporate walking programs have been they proven to increase employee motivation and engagement. Employers can save money and increase productivity while showing that they value the health and wellbeing of their employees. It's a win-win situation.

Lisa Rousseau is Co-founder and vice president of Member Engagement at Walkingspree, a specialized wellness provider delivering walking programs for health insurers and corporate clients.

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