TWIN FALLS — Companies are taking a stand for employee wellness.
It’s no secret that prolonged sitting is bad for you. For years, researchers and physicians have promoted taking breaks from sitting while at work. A study published last year by the American College of Physician’s Annals of Internal Medicine linked prolonged sedentary time with diseases such as diabetes and cancer — even in adults who exercised regularly.
“I read somewhere that sitting is the new smoking,” said Alan Horner, president and CEO of First Federal Savings Bank of Twin Falls.
In response First Federal and others have caught on to the standing desk phenomenon — and so have the employees. But standing desks aren’t the only way Twin Falls companies prioritize employee well-being.
“I think there’s a desire by the employers to help their employees be healthier, and thus, happier,” Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Shawn Barigar said.
First Federal began offering standing desks several years ago, and as employees saw the benefits, more have asked for them. The bank now allows any branch employee who works at a desk to ask for a standing one.
The desks have the option of moving up and down, so employees can reconfigure them as needed.
“Many people will use them just for when they’re working on a computer, and they want to sit while they’re writing,” Horner said.
Just in the last four or five months, First Federal has installed more than 40 standing desks, and it just put in a big order for more, he said.
The College of Southern Idaho and Glanbia Foods Inc. have created similar programs where employees can request standing desks. In both companies, employees are given a trial period with a desk to see if it’s right for them.
Most employers begin by looking at the physical aspect of employee health, said Judy Heatwole, CSI’s well-being and development coordinator. The college’s early founders, however, believed wellness isn’t just physical activity and nutrition — it encompasses the mind, body and soul.
CSI’s holistic approach to employee wellness is illustrated by its Cruise to Wellness challenge, an program the college revived from a decade ago. About 250 employees are participating in the eight-week challenge that began Sept. 26.
Divided into teams with captains, employees earn points by logging behaviors that cover any of Michael O’Donnel’s seven dimensions of “The Wellness Model”: spiritual, physical, emotional, social, intellectual, environmental and financial.
Each activity they complete earns the employee five points, and each point will get them an entry into a drawing for a voucher for a cruise for two.
The activities can be as simple as watching the sun rise — spiritual health — or spending time with a pet — emotional health. Heatwole recognizes that an activity may address a different area of health for each person.
“We want to lead people to understand what kinds of things add to their wellness,” Heatwole said.
Seeing that employees often have time constraints for going to the gym, Glanbia decided to bring gym equipment to them.
The company installed a gym in its basement a couple years ago, said Teresalee Blalock, financial accountant and safety team leader. The gym is available to employees 24 hours a day.
“I know several people who go on a daily basis,” she said.
Additionally, Glanbia promotes employee health with a one-time, once yearly reimbursement for a health program — such as a gym membership, ski pass, golf membership or weight control program.
First Federal also subsidizes gym memberships up to a certain dollar amount. It sponsors teams of employees who compete in races, as well as a weight loss competition, Horner said.
CSI employees can take advantage of the college’s facilities and sign up for free fitness courses, Heatwole said.
Glanbia defines ergonomics as making the workspace fit the employee, not the other way around, Blalock said.
Every new employee at Glanbia receives and ergonomics evaluation.
The employee first learns about workplace safety and proper sitting positions. He or she then does a self-evaluation, and also receives an evaluation from his or her coworker.
“We want people to recognize when they’re not comfortable,” Blalock said.
Glanbia considers employee health and safety non-negotiable, so “whatever the employee needs, we just get it,” Blalock said. This could be a sliding shelf for keyboards, a new chair, or a movable standing desk like what’s used at CSI and First Federal.
CSI also does ergonomics assessments for any employee who asks, Heatwole said.
Blalock attests to the effectiveness of standing desks. She uses one she and her husband created, and she has a drafting stool for sitting. Her goal was to spend 50 percent of the time standing. Now, it’s closer to 90 percent.
“I’ve lost weight and feel healthy,” Blalock said.
Glanbia has just a handful of employees using the new standing desks, as it’s a relatively new program. There are about 14 on the waiting list.
Clif Bar has also focused on ergonomics, with biophilic design elements aimed to connect employees to nature, with a belief in the well-being it provides. The company said in a release earlier this year that its Twin Falls bakery features windows, skylights, indoor plants and rotating wall projections of the outdoors.
While it’s up to employees to take control of their wellness, companies are willing to provide the tools.
During quarterly trainings at Glanbia, a physical therapist comes to teach employees about exercises they can do to relieve pain.
For example, every 20 minutes employees need to get up and move, or change their workstation — such as from standing to sitting, Blalock said.
Additionally, because computers slow down one’s blink rate, employees should focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes — the “20-20-20 rule.”
CSI also educates employees monthly. The employee wellness team comes up with a theme for each year, planning monthly activities and workshops around that theme, Heatwole said.
Last year, the college focused on financial health and offered a series of courses. This year’s theme is tackling stress.
Each month’s activities also focus on a specific health aspect. Experts will cover topics such as credit awareness, allergy strategies and family nutrition.
With its employee health initiatives, First Federal has seen a difference in employee moods and overall health.
“It’s definitely cut our health costs,” Horner said.
At CSI, however, Heatwole doesn’t see these programs having an effect on health insurance claims — but there are other tangible benefits such as employee retention and productivity.
“The biggest result is the feeling that our employees have that CSI supports and cares for them and their family,” she said.
Glanbia also sees benefits in encouraging employee health.
“If an employee is comfortable and happy,” Blalock said, “they’re more productive, of course.”