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Pumping up the bottom line.

Whether it is a state-of-the-art fitness facility or group rates at the local gym, business support for employee exercise is a healthy choice.

Four years ago, Greg Thoelke was hired by The Alaska Club to work in British Petroleum's (BP) Health and Fitness Center, located in the basement of BP's Anchorage office building. As an exercise specialist, he arranged fitness programs for employees and made sure they used proper techniques during their workouts.

Today, as program director of the center, he is in charge of overseeing the 9,000-square-foot facility, complete with cardiovascular equipment, strength-training machines and a designated free-weight room. He is also responsible for coordinating aerobic classes, yoga classes and for providing employees with monthly safety programs such as "injury prevention for beginning joggers."

BP's fitness center is an impressive example of how the company has become a leader in emphasizing "health and wellness" in the workplace. In fact, BP is one of the few Anchorage businesses that provides an onsite workout facility specifically for its employees. Although several wellness-related services are offered at BP, the fitness center, built by BP and managed by The Alaska Club, is the "showcase" of the fitness dividends offered to the company's employees, their spouses and to contract employees.

"It's a beautiful facility," Thoelke proudly says of the center. "We have state of the art equipment." The attractive work-out area has all the conveniences found in top-notch health clubs. Employees can exercise in comfort in carpeted, immaculate surroundings. The wide selection of apparatus includes treadmills, stairclimbers and lifecycles. And workers can forget their job worries while watching television or while enjoying a post-workout massage. "It's a big perk for the employees," Thoelke reports.

Of the 900 employees currently working in BP's Anchorage office, Thoelke sees 130 per day at the fitness center. "Roughly 30 to 33 percent of the employees use the fitness center regularly," Thoelke notes. Of that number, he adds, "Fifty percent come in three times per week." Thoelke believes the attractive atmosphere, the cost (it's free to users) and the convenience of having it at the worksite are the biggest draws. "If they took the health and fitness center away, there'd be a huge uproar."

Why would BP invest in such an exclusive facility, employ two people full time and contract additional part-time employees to run the program? The reason is obvious to Thoelke: To boost employee morale, to develop healthier employees and ultimately to reduce health insurance costs.

Although insurance companies don't typically reduce rates for promoting wellness, Thoelke reasons that a fit and healthy employee is less likely to call in sick. Also, an employee who works out and/or receives preventive health measures is less likely to need expensive medical treatments down the road. In both cases, the company will save money.

Further, Thoelke believes that, as a result of the fitness center and the other company programs aimed at employee wellness, BP gets less-stressed workers and increased productivity. He thinks the fitness center at BP is especially effective at providing a non-intimidating and comfortable outlet for employees. "These people are putting in 8 to 12 hours a day. We try to give them an experience where they can forget what's going on upstairs."

As a result of the service, Thoelke says the BP employees believe the company cares about them. As he sees it, employees reach the conclusion, "I'll go the extra mile for the company because they go the extra mile for me."

Although it is difficult to put an exact figure on the hard dollars spent or saved by such a venture, providing "wellness benefits" is definitely a trend of the '90s. Companies are trying to find ways to motivate their harried and stressed employees. And in an attempt to maximize employee output and boost morale, more and more businesses appear willing to explore the value of promoting wellness in the workplace.

In addition to the fitness center, Thoelke notes that BP has directed itself toward an overall health and wellness attitude. For example, he says, free blood pressure checks are given every other month. CPR classes are offered periodically, with BP paying half the fee. Free brown-bag talks (presented during the lunch hour) provide safety tips and outdoor risk-management skills. Moreover, weight management classes are offered at a low fee, and tailor-made wellness programs are developed for each interested employee. BP even offers discounts to employees interested in joining The Alaska Club. Because children are not allowed in the health and fitness center, says Thoelke, "We set up a deal where employees can work out with their families at a nice facility at a reasonable cost."

A few impressed onlookers include Arco, Alyeska and the United States Postal Service. The three companies have contacted Thoelke, BP and The Alaska Club to inquire about the fitness center and the services provided. They are most interested, says Thoelke, in start-up costs, user numbers and worker productivity.

Yet these companies, and many others around the state, have already taken steps to increase worker wellness. From providing the athletic facilities that serve North Slope workers to offering memberships at The Alaska Rock Gym in Anchorage, companies are tapping into creative ways to provide healthy choices for their employees.

Diane Warden, membership coordinator at the Anchorage Racquet & Fitness Club (ARFC), says the club provides discounts to businesses interested in corporate memberships and she has received a number of recent inquiries. A few of their current members include Brown's Electric, Northern Adjusters, and most-recently, Red Robin restaurant.

Warden notes that ARFC has three basic business programs. The first option offers a break on initiation fees; the second offers a break on the initiation fee and a reduction in monthly dues; the third offers generous discounts on both. She adds that ARFC is eager to work with businesses to arrange a deal satisfactory to all. For example, she says, "If they're willing to work with us, their fee can be waived in return for promotion."

A fairly large percentage of The Alaska Athletic Club's (AAC) market comes from corporate memberships, according to Mark Grainger, a membership sales representative from AAC. "Right now, we have between 50 and 100 (businesses) at the Anchorage and Fairbanks clubs." And, he adds, that number is on the rise.

Some of AAC's business members include the Bureau of Land Management, Anchorage Refuse, the Alaska Railroad and Providence Hospital. However, Grainger notes, "Businesses don't have to be large to receive reduced rates." In fact, he says, a company can qualify for a business membership with as few as five employees.

Grainger believes that a membership to the AAC is beneficial for both the employer and the employee. Like Thoelke, he thinks a fit employee is a more productive employee. He also expects that a fit employee will have fewer sick days. Grainger thinks it's important that people understand what he means by fitness. "Fitness," he says, "doesn't necessarily mean they're body beautiful. It means they're embracing fitness and reducing stress." He adds that he believes a trend toward the "wellness in the workplace" attitude can be far-reaching. "If we can get businesses to see the value in fitness, we'll see a major change in the overall health in the country."

Back at BP, Thoelke understands that most businesses couldn't afford to build and maintain a fitness center like BP's. Yet he believes most companies can afford to take steps toward creating a healthier workplace. Offering employee discounts to a health club is a great start, he says. Or, he adds, "They can put in a few pieces of equipment," at their offices. He believes that the added convenience can provide the impetus some workers need to partake in a quick exercise session before or after work or during the lunch hour.

Thoelke also believes that simply by hiring a fitness consultant, a company can get workers to increase their activity levels and participate more readily in a wellness program. He adds that the program should include prevention measures as well as exercise. "They (the business) should have someone on site who is energetic, enthusiastic and approachable." He believes these attributes are important in motivating the uninspired or skeptical employee who might otherwise balk at joining a health club. Most companies could do that very inexpensively, Thoelke says. He is convinced the costs would be redeemed very quickly.

Thoelke concludes, "The bottom line is ... business owners can save money, and they can make money. Their insurance costs are down and their employees are better off and more productive."

Where to Exercise

Anchorage

Alaska Atheltic Club, 630 E. Tudor, 562-2460, or 745 W. 4th Ave., 274-4232

The Alaska Club, 5201 E. Tudor, 337-9550

Anchorage Racquet & Fitness Club, 700 S. Bragaw, 278-3621

Body Tech Gym, 6901 E. Tudor, 338-2639

Gold's Gym, 5011 Arctic Blvd., 561-2214

Polaris Athletic Club, Huffman Business Park, 11901 Industrial Way, 345-6658

Southtown Fitness/Jazzercize, 300 E. Dimond Blvd., 349-1215

World Gym Aerobic Fitness of Anchorage, 1650 W. Northern Lights Blvd., 274-5510

Fairbanks

Alaska Athletic Club, 150 Eagle Ave., 456-1914

American Fitness, Regency Mall, 59 College Road, 451-4476

Jazzercize Fitness Center, 201 Old Steese highway, Suite 7, 451-0966

Juneau

Fitness Plys Gym & Aerobics, 1248 Glacier Ave., 586-6666

Juneau Racquet Club, 2841 Riverside Dr., 789-2181

Kenai

Body Shoppe, Mile 16 Kenai Spur Highway, 283-8001

Petersburg

New You, 104 Haugen Dr., 772-4466

Sitka

Body World Gym, 236 Lincoln St., 747-6977

Fitness Plus, 805 HPR, 747-5800

Soldotna

The Sweatshop, 225 Kenai Ave. 262-4690

Wasilia

Fitness & Fun, 1720 E. Parks Highway, 376-3300

Paradise Fitness Inc., 715 W. Parks Highway, 376-1075

Valley Gym, 515 W. Parks Highway, 373-2315
COPYRIGHT 1996 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:employee wellness program
Author:Ajango, Deb
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:1598
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