Nautilus encourages employees to participate in wellness program

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Nautilus is in the business of improving people's health and fitness. So it seemed only natural to offer its employees the same opportunity.

The exercise equipment company is doing so with its new workplace wellness program.

"We're in business to improve people's lives," said Wayne Bolio, director of human resources at Nautilus. "Since that's what we're telling our customers and our retail partners, we want to make sure we're modeling that same behavior to our employees."

Nautilus launched the wellness program last month. The company is encouraging employees to participate in as many company- and community-sponsored events as possible. At the end of the year, employees who attend the required number of events will be entered to win iPads, Bolio said.

Event offerings include biometric screenings, a wellness fair and a lunch-time kickball tournament. Employees can also take an online health assessment and work out at least three days a week for 12 weeks for program credit. Last month's American Heart Association's Heart & Stroke Walk and this summer's Hood to Coast Relay are eligible community events.

The goal, Bolio said, is to drive home the point that every individual is, to some extent, in control of their own health and wellness.

Workplace wellness programs like the one offered at Nautilus are growing in popularity across the country.

Access improves

In 1999, about 19 percent of full-time, private-sector employees had access to workplace wellness programs. By 2008, that number had risen to 28 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The programs are even more common in the public sector. In 1998, 35 percent of public employees had access to wellness programs. By 2008, it was up to 54 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Like Nautilus, some companies create their own wellness programs. Some employers provide access to existing weight-loss programs, such as Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center starting a Weight Watchers group. And others hire independent companies to manage their wellness programs.

Earlier this year, OnPoint Community Credit Union started its own wellness program.

The credit union, which has branches in Oregon and Southwest Washington, formed a wellness committee and started a corporate wellness newsletter. The company is working with LifeBalance, a Portland-based wellness program provider, to offer quarterly challenges to employees, said Darcie Bergstrom, a benefits administrator for OnPoint.

The first challenge consisted of teams of five employees. Each team was tasked with logging 5,000 minutes of activity in five weeks. Employees logged into the

LifeBalance website to submit their activity minutes.

The company held weekly drawings for teams that were on track, and at the end of five weeks, teams that completed the challenge were entered in a drawing for a paid day off.

More than half of the company's 450 employees participated in the first event -- far more than organizers expected, Bergstrom said.

"They see their co-workers getting excited about something and the excitement just kind of spreads," she said.

Offering a wellness program helps OnPoint to stay competitive in a market where more and more companies are providing wellness programs, Bergstrom said. The company also hopes the program will motivate employees to live healthier lives which, over time, could help lower the company's health insurance premiums, she said.

Lower health care costs don't only benefit the employer but the employees as well, Bolio said. Healthier employees may also translate to reduced absenteeism, he added.

"Health and fitness is a benefit unto itself," Bolio said. "That's kind of a no-brainer from our standpoint."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.