EAGLE COUNTY — Not too many employees — especially those at desk jobs — can say that their job helps them reach their fitness goals.
That’s the case at a handful of Eagle County businesses, who have embraced the concept of employee wellness by offering their workers a comprehensive health and fitness program. Some of these companies and organizations have even become officially certified as a “healthy business” by Health Links, a statewide program aimed at helping small and large businesses set up and scale workplace wellness programs.
At the Vail Valley Foundation, an Avon-based nonprofit, employees enjoy healthy snacks and drinks in the office kitchen, free yoga classes and office-wide workout challenges and flexible schedules that allow them to jump into a midday gym class or go on a run during the warmest time of the day.
Those are among the many benefits the foundation offers (in addition to comprehensive health insurance, flu shots and help with financial health planning), which has earned the nonprofit the highest level of certification that Health Links offers.
Office manager Dionne Drugan-Brown said she’ll often use the flex time to go for a run or sneak in a class at Manic Training in Edwards. However, it’s more than just a flex schedule, she said — it’s a company-wide attitude that not only allows but supports its employees’ wellness goals
“Right now, we’re doing a Get Moving Colorado challenge, to get out for 30 minutes a day for some kind of activity,” said Drugan-Brown. “It encourages me not to sit at my desk for nine hours. Sometimes people will go out together as a group. It’s a very supportive environment.”
The wellness model
Other businesses that have become Health Links certified include the Vail Vitality Center, the town of Vail and the town of Gypsum. They’re all part of a trend that Health Links officials said not only benefits employees but the businesses as well.
“When the state unveiled its economic plan, health and wellness was identified as one of the major drivers of economic development,” said Amanda Visosky, Health Links northwest regional coordinator. “When businesses have a healthy focus on prevention and wellness, it lowers healthcare costs, improves productivity and in the valley, it’s a great way to recruit and retain employees.”
Wellness goes beyond fitness programs and healthy habits, too. The Health Links program also takes into account employee safety, something the town of Vail particularly stresses.
Vail’s safety committee has won numerous awards for their proactivity when it comes to preventing and responding to workplace injuries, said human resources director Krista Miller.
“The committee looks at safety and recognizes ways to do things safer. We address concerns as soon as possible. We review our incidents that do happen to prevent it from happening again,” she said. “One recent initiative we’re working on is that we know living and working here, we’re more at risk for injuries with hips, shoulders and backs. That’s more so if we’re less fit. So we have lifting training to teach proper technique as well as teaching our employees how to increase core strength.”
Miller said that while the town has always had employee health and safety programs, applying for a Health Links certification has helped the town focus on what works best. Miller said the town also hopes to start offering lunch seminars on health topics.
Many participating employers said that in addition to offering benefits to their employees, they hope to eventually save on health costs, see less sick days and avoid injuries in the workplace.
“Wellness programs add value to the workplace supporting employees in being happy and healthy and creating a culture with their needs in mind. You can’t put a dollar figure on this. It’s priceless,” said Jeff Morgan, director of the Vail Vitality Center.
Taking off in Eagle County
For businesses who become Health Links certified, they must meet certain benchmarks that have been proven to be effective wellness indicators. There is an application fee, and once certified, Health Links also offers local advising and a network of local resources to businesses that participate.
Seed funding is eligible for the smallest employers (two to 49 employees) who often face challenges for getting health and wellness programs started. The program is currently offering $110,000 in seed funding to qualified businesses in Eagle County, available on a first come, first serve basis.