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Slowly changing habits helps create a healthy workplace

How healthy is your workplace? Do you and your colleagues hold "walking meetings'' where you discuss business while scoring more steps on your pedometers? Do you stock the office fridge with seltzer and fruit? Can you win prizes for your healthy lifestyle changes?

Lest you think I have descended into fantasy, let me introduce you to Patricia Fuller.

She is the director of wellness engineering (really!) at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners, an insurance brokerage in Tampa. It's her job to help employees at her own company and those at BKS's clients (such as Lowry Park Zoo) learn smart lifestyle changes to protect their health.

She also was BKS's team leader in the recent Walk to the Moon Challenge, in which thousands of people around the Tampa Bay area pledged cumulatively to cover at least 238,857 miles over seven weeks. Fuller's team members each clocked an average of nearly 31 miles a week, making them a winner in their category (for more, see page 3).

What may be even more remarkable, however, is that 47 of BKS's 55 employees participated — that's 85 percent.

So, after clearing the remains of my desktop lunch and carefully ignoring the newsroom doughnuts, I called Fuller to learn the secrets of a healthy workplace.

"Wellness is a word that's been bandied about for a long time, but we actually do it,'' said Fuller, 56, a longtime project manager who holds a doctorate in holistic nutrition. (She's also a CPA, has an MBA, and is a certified wellness coach who fine-tunes her skills at a Harvard program.)

A few lessons learned from BKS and Fuller, 56, who has been in her role there for two years:

• Get the brass on board. "From the start, I had very good support from upper management,'' she said. "They knew that wellness was the future.''

• Be patient. "It takes a while to get there. People give up too fast,'' she said. Just as a dieter can't expect to drop 10 pounds in a week, employers can't expect their health insurance premiums to plummet with a few initiatives. But increases in BKS's "renewal rates have been very, very low.''

• Create the right environment — slowly. When Fuller arrived at BKS, the office pantry was full of unhealthy snack foods. First she eased that down to 100-calorie packs. Now it's fruit, nuts and water. Everybody received pedometers. Lots of people are feeling and looking better. One woman has lost 25 pounds over two years of small changes, Fuller reports.

• Make it a game. Walk to the Moon was just the latest wellness competition for BKS, which has some kind of an event every quarter. Rewards are tied in to the employee benefits plan.

• Ditch the desktop dining. "People think they're saving time, but they're really not.'' Besides, "if you could do the CSI thing on your keyboard you'd be completely disgusted,'' she said. No doubt.

• Let people know what you need. What do you say to doughnut pushers who visit the office? "I know you love us, but this is how you can love us more,'' is Fuller's gentle reproof.

At her office, colleagues bring in produce for a group salad at lunch (at a real dining table). Once a month "everybody in the firm celebrates victories, birthdays, always positive stuff.''

Moderation, apparently, is key. I asked if the team shares birthday cakes at those celebrations.

"Sure!'' she said. "Why wouldn't you?''

Charlotte can be reached at sutton@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8425.

Slowly changing habits helps create a healthy workplace

06/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 5:30am]
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