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Toning up the workplace.

Toning Up The Workplace

Acxiom's 5,000-SF Wellness Center Is Just One Example Of A Growing Trend Toward Fit Employees

At Acxiom Corp. in Conway, a 5,000-SF Wellness Center built in 1988 houses the latest equipment for exercise buffs. It includes free-weights, cardiovascular machines, Nautilus equipment, aerobic classes, and volleyball and basketball courts. More competitive employees participate in intramural programs, and the weary relax with a massage after a hard day's work or workout.

Acxiom employees can join the center for a minimal $10 a month, and spouses of employees pay only $5 a month. With approximately 66 percent of employees participating in the program, Acxiom's fitness center is definitely cost-effective, says manager Mike Strain.

"We believe wellness is the whole, total human being...we do assessments on every individual, and our assessment is way more complete than the normal fitness center," Strain says. "We do a stress test, a complete blood chemistry, upper and lower body-strength test, flexibility test, body-fat composition tests, and we do a complete health history of the people to alert us to any problems they might have."

All that adds up to healthier, more productive employees.

With the cost of employee health insurance coverage steadily rising, so are the concerns of many large corporations who are trying to hold down expenses.

Many Arkansas businesses looking for a solution to lowering health costs without cutting benefits are following the growing national trend of executive health care, or "wellness" programs.

Hoping that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure, employers are doing everything from encouraging employees to exercise more and quit smoking, to implementing programs which help injured employees get back to work faster and installing on-site gyms and physical fitness centers.

From The Top Down

Strain says the philosophy behind the building of the Wellness Center started with top management in the company, all of whom are physically active.

"All of them really believe in fitness; they are fitness-oriented, and that's really the thing that made it work," says Strain. "They understand the benefits of fitness: how it helps them, how a healthy person is more active, more valuable to the company. That was really the basis of the whole project."

Seminars dealing with stress management, assertiveness techniques, and CPR training are held at Acxiom's center to provide a total approach to mind and body fitness.

Benefits to the company are lower absenteeism, fewer sick days, and more productive employees. Another positive aspect is recruiting.

"It's a recruiting tool, for sure," Strain says, "And when people feel good -- and feel good about themselves -- it's great for the company. In a nutshell, it's the perfect situation."

Little Rock's Finest Health Club

Another approach to getting employees in shape is offering corporate memberships. The Little Rock Athletic Club, which boasts of members like the Atlantic Hawks' Sidney Moncrief and the Boston Celtics' Joe Kleine in the NBA off-season, attracts the cream of the crop in Little Rock.

Corporate memberships are offered but are not necessarily pursued because business people have frequented the place since its inception. Noticeably absent are the typical "muscle heads" found in many other gyms, and cost is probably a factor.

"The cost is definitely prohibitive to some people," says Robin Hanle, a sales associate. "We don't have mirrors here, either. People don't come here just to look at themselves."

Law firms, architectural firms, and Baptist Medical Center are some examples of companies which sponsor contracts with LRAC. Stephens Inc. is the biggest customer, with over 100 employees participating in basketball, indoor/outdoor tennis, squash, racquetball, and aerobic classes.

The club, which ranks with the finest in the country, is on top of the latest exercise trends, offering individual fitness trainers, massages, a wide range of Nautilus and weight machines, and the recent "bench-master" aerobic classes "to cut down on the line at the Stairmaster machines," Hanle says

A restaurant, pro-shop, and plenty of couches and television sets in the locker rooms are available for those who prefer a more leisurely pace.

Health-Conscious Employees

Corporate memberships may be obtained with five or more employees of a company participating, and reduced joining fees are offered to workers and families.

Hanle says the business-fitness marriage is definitely a trend that is catching on.

"It's a recent trend nationwide, but Arkansas has still not come to grips with how important it is," she says. "We know what the benefits of corporate health are if the employer would invest in his employees healthwise and emotionally, but a lot of them are still reluctant to put that dollar down. They can't see the dollar value in it, so it's slow in catching on here.

"It's a stress reliever. Healthier employees mean reduced absenteeism. In the long run, the employer will pay less for his insurance, and overall morale is boosted," she says.

Decreasing Worker's Comp Claims

With employers caring more and more about preventive health measures, new business ventures are appearing for those who can recognize an opportunity. Kersh Wellness Management Inc. is one.

Located in Russellville and run by Richard Kersh, an exercise physiologist, the firm provides wellness programs to corporations all over the state. The programs consist of physiological testing, stress tests, and blood-chemistry tests. Kersh claims the company can do everything from reducing health care costs and decreasing workmen's compensation claims to helping employer-employee morale.

"This trend has been around for approximately 10 years; however, most big companies that want to make an investment in wellness want to see what the results will yield," he says. "And the reason everybody is getting more interested is because statistics now are returning, and they're showing that wellness is a good investment."

Kersh's five-year-old company already handles many corporations in central Arkansas. Weyerhaeuser, Best Foods, Ouachita National Forest, Ozark National Forest, and the Arkansas State Police have all employed Kersh to set up programs for employees.

Kersh says one of the toughest parts of his job is convincing employers he can make a physiological difference in the health of workers. As an exercise physiologist, he reads research journals, and the data and results are clear to him; however, businessmen need a different sort of proof.

"What I had to do was learn how to communicate to the business leader. The way to do that was to read what he reads. We monitored things like The Wall Street Journal and Nations Business, and anytime there was a positive note about wellness, we would database this," Kersh says.

"Five years ago, only 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies participated in wellness programs; now it's over 50 percent. Companies don't get to be Fortune 500 companies without doing something right."

A deal between Kersh Wellness Management Inc. and Baptist Medical Center is in the planning stage, whereby "we're merging together," Kersh says. "They're going to bring their medical assets to my corporation."

Already in place at Baptist Hospital is a workers injury management program, coordinated in the marketing department by Sandie Lubin. Lubin finds that more employers are taking an interest in their employees' health because medical benefits for workers are rising so rapidly.

"In Pulaski County in 1985, there were $12.5 million spent on work-related injuries. They're also starting to identify how much cost is attributable to other health-related areas, such as smoking, being overweight, and alcohol- and drug-related dependencies," Lubin says. "They're seeing absenteeism, tardiness, and overall productivity on the job are all related to those types of illnesses."

In the work injury management program, an employee injured on the job can be sent to the Baptist Hospital emergency room, see a physician, and receive follow-up care if necessary. If a specialist is needed, the program will either assign one or help the company or employee find one.

"If the company can keep down those workers' loss of time away from work, if they can keep those costs down, then that affects how much they have to pay in premiums on workers compensation insurance, and that then affects their overall budget," she says.

Lubin also stressed that a "work hardening" program is included that evaluates what kind of work an injured employee can go back to in order to be an effective worker without risking more injury or worsening the existing one.

It seems that in the era of George Bush, maybe even bosses are becoming "kinder and gentler" when it comes to the health of their employees. But, of course, at the bottom line of almost everything in business, money talks.

If more data proves that spending money on the front end will save even more on the back end, businesses will probably start considering "wellness programs" as something they need to have, much like on-the-job daycare centers.

Since America is the only western industrialized nation without a national healthcare or health insurance system, wellness programs may indeed be a step in the right direction.

PHOTO : FITNESS FRENZY: With the rising cost of health insurance, corporations are trying to save money by offering employees incentives to get fit. At Acxiom Corp., the incentive is a 5,000-SF Wellness Center that features the latest in exercise equipment.

Michelle Tyrrell is a free-lance writer living in Little Rock.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Acxiom Corp.
Author:Tyrrell, Michelle
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 15, 1990
Words:1530
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