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Well Workplace Gold Winners Share Their Secrets

Read about the three winners of the Wellness Council of America’s 2009 Well Workplace Gold Award. Although their programs differ, these employers share a solid commitment to and belief in the value of workplace wellness initiatives.

The Milwaukee Public School System pays more than $200 million a year to provide free health insurance for employees, dependents, and retirees. With that cost climbing nearly 10 percent a year, school district leaders and unions developed "Learn Good Health, Live Good Health," an ambitious health and productivity program, a few years back.

"Learn Good Health, Live Good Health" is distinctive because it focuses on maintaining good health and preventing disease and also assists employees with acute conditions. 

One of the features of the program is a voluntary annual personal health assessment, also known as a health risk assessment. This confidential process reveals baseline information about health status and risks and also suggests an action plan based on the findings. In exchange for completing the assessment, the $200 annual health premium is waived. Participants may also earn a $250 incentive (a debit card for medical and dental co-pays or over-the-counter medications) for taking a phone or online health program. Program topics include nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and back care, among many others.

Another feature is a 24-hour nurse phone line. "If you wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, the phone nurse will help triage you to the appropriate level of care," explains Chris Toth, director of Benefits and Insurance Services.

Currently, a majority of employees complete the annual health risk assessment, and there have been drops in percentages of hospitalization, office visits, and emergency room use among participants. Meanwhile, use of preventive care services has increased by 10 percent, which indicates that people are doing more to try to remain healthy.


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At The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, 1,300 employees participate in a wellness program called JAXfit, which also encourages workers to fill out a health risk assessment and pays workers for doing so.

Providing basic healthcare services on-site, including physical therapy, is a core component of The Jackson Laboratory’s wellness initiative. Because the facility is self-insured, health and benefit leaders found that on-site care (for both on- or off-the-job concerns) helps keep the focus on prevention. It’s also a practical way to boost productivity—leaving the workplace for a medical or therapy appointment takes longer than visiting the on-site facility.

The clinic, known as the Employee Health Center, is staffed by a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse/case manager, two physical therapists, the wellness coordinator, medical assistants, and administrators. The approach is early intervention and keeping people on the job.

Another popular offering at The Jackson Laboratory is company-provided "preventive benefits," offered at no cost to all employees. These include routine adult physicals, well-child care and immunization, adult immunizations, routine ob/gyn exams, routine eye and hearing exams, mammograms, PSA tests, routine rectal exams, colonoscopies, and sigmoidoscopies.

JAXfit also focuses on the involvement of spouses or domestic partners. Their participation can help reduce a couple’s healthcare costs by lowering the deductible that must be paid for healthcare visits. Like employees, spouses and partners are urged to have checkups and take classes. They earn incentive credits by taking online courses on insomnia, depression, and other topics, and by tracking physical activity and diet information.


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Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, is a WELCOA Well Workplace gold winner for the fourth time for its efforts on behalf of its approximately 7,000 employees.

The centerpiece is an on-site fitness center that is open 24 hours a day to accommodate diverse shifts and schedules. It is staffed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but employees can enter any time they wish by scanning their ID cards.

In addition to gym equipment, the center offers classes in yoga, Pilates, and aerobics, as well as health screenings for blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, anemia, and metabolic syndrome.

Group programming is another wellness component. One of the most popular group activities is a Friday morning event known as "Walking the Mercy Mile." Depending on the weather, employees walk an indoor or outdoor mile together.

Another popular offering is "Fit with Five," which helps employees to become more aware of the need for fruits and vegetables in their diet and to track their progress in eating more of them. The goal is to eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits each day for a month. Employees report that this has really helped change their eating behavior.

Mercy’s wellness program has been operating for over 15 years and has produced consistent incremental changes in employee health and an increase in awareness. Giving people the opportunity to participate in group programs, making working out more convenient, and sharing knowledge about healthy living are seen by this employer as the right things to do for its personnel.

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