<strong>Company</strong>: Connell Insurance Inc. <br /><strong>Title</strong>: Life and Health Manager, at Connell since 1992<br /><strong>Education</strong>: High school graduate, Round Lake, Ill., and more than 25 years of experience in the insurance industry<br /><strong>Healthy moves</strong>: Hollister-based Connell Insurance stepped up its employee wellness efforts in January with a wellness program that includes on-site yoga and fitness classes. <br /><strong>Contact</strong>: <a href="mailto:lwelter@connellinsurance.com">lwelter@connellinsurance.com</a><hr />
Company: Connell Insurance Inc.
Title: Life and Health Manager, at Connell since 1992
Education: High school graduate, Round Lake, Ill., and more than 25 years of experience in the insurance industry
Healthy moves: Hollister-based Connell Insurance stepped up its employee wellness efforts in January with a wellness program that includes on-site yoga and fitness classes.
Contact: lwelter@connellinsurance.com
Excerpts from an interview by Features Editor Maria Hoover, mhoover@sbj.net.

What led Connell Insurance to launch a formal employee wellness program in January?
We were interested in improving employee health and morale, and in ways to de-stress during the workday. We – the owners and managers here – realized the connection between rising health care costs and premiums, and employees’ overall health and unhealthy living. We actually had started a couple years ago with a wellness program of sorts, and we didn’t have a lot of buy-in from the employees. After the holidays, we decided to hire an outside trainer, because we didn’t feel like we could say, “You need to do this and that,” to our employees. We work with Big Time Results.

What does Connell’s wellness program entail?
We do yoga here at work two times a week, (with) two 45-minute yoga classes on each of those days so everybody can participate. On Tuesday evenings, we have a one-hour general fitness class on-site. One week, we’ll do upper-body work. Another week, we’ll do lower-body work or maybe an overall workout. We’ve done Pilates. It gives employees a taste of all the different types of exercise out there.

We have one or two lunch-and-learns a month, and we send out e-mail blasts, keeping (the program) in front of employees to remind them to make healthier choices.

What incentives are used to encourage participation in Connell’s voluntary program?
At the end of the program, the employees will have to pay 20 percent if they do not meet individual goals that they set – [such as] blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides or body mass index. If they do meet them, we continue to pay 100 percent of their premiums.

We have a step game we play, and when you clock in, you have to wear your pedometer and log at least 6,500 steps a day. At the end of the week, everyone who has met that gets their name put in a hat, and we draw, and that person gets to go home an hour early on Friday. We’ve given gift cards and special recognition.

What results have you seen from the program so far?
I have noticed that I’ve seen less absenteeism, and employees are trying to make healthier choices in the foods they eat. People are helping to encourage each other. I would have never thought that I would like to work out next to my fellow employees, but it has been a lot of fun, and I’ve heard a lot of employees say the same thing.

What advice do you have for companies considering wellness programs?
You don’t have to spend a lot of money and invest in on-site gyms or bring in equipment. You can start small. There has to be owner and management buy-in. It has to start from the top.

Have patience. Few wellness programs see a return of investment in the first year or so. It’s a long-term goal. Focus on the employees. Take surveys, and form a small wellness committee of a few employees so you can get several ideas of what to offer.

What are some practical small steps for getting started?
Clean out the vending machines if you have them and replace them with healthy snacks.  We have a vending machine, and we always had it filled with cookies and cakes and that type of thing. Now we’ve got 100-calorie snack bags and granola bars, little fruit cups, things like that.

Enforce a nonsmoking atmosphere. Encourage everyone to walk 6,500 to 10,000 steps a day. Keep reminding people about healthy living and eating. We use e-mail, posters, several bulletin boards, and we have frames in the restrooms where we’ll put (messages). Offer health risk assessments. A lot of employees may think they’re healthy and not even know their numbers.