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Friendly Competition: Wellness Plans Help Employees, and Customers Too

Friendly Competition: Wellness Plans Help Employees, and Customers Too

Retailers use a team-centric, results-oriented approach to get employees and shoppers in shape

The H.E. Butt Grocery Co. is about to choose 25 lucky customers who will compete for $10,000 in a fitness challenge modeled after one that has run internally for the last two years.

Tomorrow, the shoppers will be selected to participate in a 16-week consumer version of H-E-B’s “The Slim Down Showdown.”

Participants will attend a “Fit Camp” June 15-18 in San Antonio. During Fit Camp, professionals from The Cooper Institute and H-E-B will offer education to the contestants on proper nutrition, physical activity and weight management. After Fit Camp, the contestants will return home to apply what they’ve learned.

The person whose health has improved the most at the end of the four months will win $10,000.

The contest follows on the heels of a similar 12-week employee fitness competition. On March 30, H-E-B named Chris Sonnier, a shelf-edge process manager at H-E-B headquarters in San Antonio, winner of the employee Slim Down Showdown. He received a $10,000 prize for losing 53 pounds and nine inches during the 12-week contest.

Employees cheer for their favorite contestant at the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown finale.  A consumer version is under way.At left, employees cheer for their favorite contestant at the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown finale.

While 12 employees officially competed, H-E-B distributed a “Lunch and Learn” Slim Down Showdown toolkit to all employees who wanted to compete on their own. More than 4,500 employees participated, losing a total of 23,000 pounds. 

Fellow employees could sign up to “follow” a specific contestant’s blog/vlog. Those that did received wristbands in the color of the “team” member they followed.

At the March 30 finale, followers wore team colors and held up signs to show solidarity with their contestant of choice.

H-E-B is one of a growing number of retailers tying in wellness programs for both employees and customers. Hy-Vee offers incentives for employees and shoppers to compete in its annual “Live Healthy America 100-Day Wellness Challenge.” It encourages involvement by providing coupons for $5 off the $15 registration cost. Registration provides access to recipes, videos, workouts and health information.

This year’s challenge kicked off Jan. 23 and runs through tomorrow. Teams of two to 10 people compete to see who can lead healthier lifestyles.

Throughout the “100 Day Wellness Challenge,” team members log their weekly progress — from the activities completed and/or pounds lost to overall health and wellness goals.

Customers in Charge: A Special SN Edition

When the contest ends, employee teams that lose the most combined weight and record their progress will get prizes ranging from a $250 Hy-Vee gift card to a free six-month gym membership.

The annual event gets strong employee participation. Nearly 6,000 employees have formed 1,049 teams this year. As of Day 88, more than 37,000 pounds were lost.

The team-centric approach is what helps makes it work, said Kristine Hennings, Hy-Vee’s assistant vice president for employee benefits.

“It’s helpful to get support from other people,” she said. “It keeps employees engaged.” 

Teams get so engrossed in the contest that friendly rivalries form between store departments. For instance, the meat department team will jokingly bring in treats for the Center Store team in hopes of getting them to go off their diets.

“It’s exciting and fun for the employees,” she said.

Hy-Vee hopes that the employee excitement will rub off on customers. To help in this effort, Hy-Vee created a web link for customers to get information about and register for the program.

Another team-centric approach is used in the Hy-Vee’s “Begin” 10-week healthy lifestyle program for employees and customers. Employees can register and take the class together under the supervision of their store dietitian.

When employees talk to each other in-store about their progress, they serve as a promotional billboard for the program, said Rochelle Gilman, Hy-Vee’s corporate dietitian.

“Store employees provide some of the best PR and advertising,” she said. 

The program is free to Hy-Vee employees; shoppers are charged $290 for nutrition education, meal suggestions and biometric testing.

More than three-quarters of the full-time employees at the Hy-Vee store in Independence, Mo., have attended the store’s Begin class, led by store dietitian Jamie Jarvis.

It starts out with pre-biometric screenings to  analyze total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides and fasting blood glucose measurements. Other measurements include body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference, height, weight, blood pressure and heart rate. At the end of the 10 weeks, participants get a post-biometric screening to see how their health has changed for the better.

Dazzling Displays, Healthful Benefits Draw Shoppers to Produce

Many participants are happy to see that after just 10 weeks, they have lost weight and/or reduced their cholesterol levels and blood pressure, said Jarvis.

“Even if they don’t see a change on the scale, they’ll see how changes in diet affect blood levels,” she said.

The goal is to catch potential health problems early, according to Jarvis.

“We can identify when glucose and blood pressure are starting to creep up so that something can be done about it,” she said.

The team approach encourages individual members to stay on course and follow their wellness plan. “Employees encourage each other,” Jarvis said. “They provide accountability.”

When she first took the job, Jarvis thought she would mostly assist customers. Working with employees has added a whole new dimension to her position.

“It has allowed me to develop a closer relationship with the workers at the store,” she said. Employees, in turn, have become ambassadors of Begin.

“If employees are successful with Begin, they’ll recommend me to customers,” she said.

United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, may launch a combined  employee-customer wellness  effort in the near future, said Jennifer Gorman, United’s wellness manager.

One possibility is the launch of a website where people can log exercise minutes and caloric intake.

Like H-E-B and Hy-Vee, United is a believer in the team approach.

“People tend to work better in teams. They’re more competitive and motivated,” Gorman said.

Employee teams at United Supermarkets take a virtual road trip after completing health and wellness activities.In January, United launched an online wellness “Road Trip” challenge. Employees formed teams, and earned “mileage” based on their exercise regimen and other factors. They could use the mileage to “travel” to different parts of the U.S., such as the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Teams that “visited” the most places earned gift cards and other rewards.

Another internal wellness program at United is the “I Give” poster. From March 1-31, United hung “I Give” posters in each store. Employees were asked to write on the poster one item — say, a soda a day — they would give up to improve their health.

At a time of rising obesity rates, efforts like these can motivate employees to get in shape, said Gorman.

Doing so will not only reduce sick time and health care costs, but improve morale and productivity.

“They feel that their employer cares about them,” she said.

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