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Friday, 03 March 2017 09:14

Walworth County's employee wellness program gets workers moving, motivated to change

Written by  Margaret Plevak
Walworth County employees take advantage of the warmer-than-usual weather to get a walk in during a break recently. From the left in the foreground are Dawn Hall, Becky Kligora and Dale Wilson. In back, Colleen Lesniak, left, walks with Maegan Sankey. The county offers a free wellness program to its employees and their families. Walworth County employees take advantage of the warmer-than-usual weather to get a walk in during a break recently. From the left in the foreground are Dawn Hall, Becky Kligora and Dale Wilson. In back, Colleen Lesniak, left, walks with Maegan Sankey. The county offers a free wellness program to its employees and their families. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Dan Dailey, whose first job out of college was as a certified personal trainer, has a background in education and sports science, so he knows the value of regular exercise. Now working in the electronic monitoring department at the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, Dailey, 43, finds he’s become a little more attuned to other healthy habits since joining Walworth County’s Wellness Council a little over a year ago.

“A portion of my job involves working at a desk, and rather than staying rooted in a chair all that time, I make a point of getting up and moving around a bit,” he said. “The program has made me more well-rounded. I probably pay more attention to nutrition and food labels, whether or not I’m getting enough sleep at night, just becoming overall more health conscious.”

Helping county employees to manage and improve their health is the mission behind Walworth County’s Wellness Council, now in its seventh year, said Lisa Henke, the county’s risk/benefits manager who has overseen the program since 2014.

About 25 percent of county’s more than 900 employees participate in the wellness program, but participation fluctuates with the time of year and interest in particular programs, Henke said.

The county got help creating the program from the Wellness Council of Wisconsin and the Wellness Council of America.

Walworth County has earned recognition for its program. In 2015, it was one of 17 Wisconsin companies to reach the gold level Well Workplace award from WELCOA. Last summer, the county was one of 154 companies across the country and one of 14 in Wisconsin named one of the healthiest companies by Interactive Health, a national health risk assessor. It was the county’s sixth consecutive award.

The program is free for participants, which include full-time, part-time and pool employees and their families.

Walworth County’s wellness program isn’t paid for by taxpayer dollars, but through fundraising, like the annual upcoming 5K run/walk in May, Henke said. Sponsorships not only fund the program, but 10 percent of the event’s proceeds are donated to charity.

Henke said studies show healthier employees means fewer sick days and more job productivity.

“Over the last seven years, the program’s participants have collectively lost more than 3,000 pounds of weight, walked thousands of miles, given enough blood to save hundreds of people, established regular workout routines, adopted healthy eating habits and much more,” she said.

Walworth County offers an annual health risk assessment with biometric testing for employees and spouses on the county’s health plan. Participation is voluntary, but participants can receive lower health insurance premiums by meeting goals.

The composite reports from health risk assessment and biometric screening information show a decrease in participants’ blood pressure, triglycerides and total cholesterol, Henke said. Employees who are in the ideal scoring bracket have increased by 25 percent and those in the high risk category have decreased by 50 percent, she said.

The program’s quarterly campaigns focus on one component of health, with wellness challenges, like the current Strive for Five, which gets teams of four people to exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. As in other challenges, participants are eligible for prize drawings as incentives, like Wisconsin state park passes.

Other challenges include weight loss, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables or water, and maintaining weight over the holidays.  There are Lunch and Learn sessions on a wellness topic and weekly exercise classes over the lunch period or after work.

“Employees enjoy walking during breaks, so we have provided them with various routes around our campus and buildings to know how many miles they’ve gone,” Henke said. “Our exercise classes are popular and our Get Fit 5K run/walk keeps growing.”

Michele Jacobs, who works in the county’s court system, is an exercise instructor who has taught boot camp-style classes in Clinton. Her classes for the county’s wellness program have ranged from using hand weights to core strength exercises and Tabata, a high-intensity workout that features four-minute bursts of exercise.

“I try to make sure there are options for the moves so people of all fitness levels can participate,” she said. “I love seeing people step outside of their comfort zone and push themselves to do something they didn’t think they could do.”

Each county building has a member on the wellness council. Each year, council members do a needs and interest survey of all employees, review the responses and use the data to help shape the following year’s program.

Diversity in the program is one of its strengths, said Colleen Lesniak, Walworth County’s volunteer coordinator. She volunteered for the council when it began in 2010.

“We have noticed a slow but steady increase in participation overall in challenges and the need for a more diverse wellness program that not only includes nutrition and physical wellness, but other topics such as stress management, smoking cessation and financial well-being,” she said.

Lesniak said after losing about 30 pounds over the past few years, she’s gotten a better idea of the importance of maintaining the weight loss with daily exercise.

“It seems like I see more employees now taking walks or using workout DVDs on their breaks and lunch time and trying to be more active during the workday,” she said. “That is great.”

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