Fit 2 Work: Improving Employee Health and Productivity in the City of North Little Rock

By Mayor Patrick H. Hays and Alderman Beth White

The City of North Little Rock’s Employee Wellness program is helping City employees improve their overall health and fitness through the Fit 2 Live initiative that promotes healthy eating and active living. Studies show that healthier employees are more productive employees. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, unhealthy employees cost an estimated $153 billion a year in lost productivity. The poll goes on to say that the costs would increase “if it included presenteeism, which is when employees go to work but are less productive in their jobs because of poor health or reduced wellbeing.”

In the most recent release of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Pulaski County ranks 21st out of 75 counties in Arkansas in the category of morbidity. Morbidity refers to the ratio of sick to well people in a community. A particular area of interest under the morbidity category is the reported number of poor health days.

In Pulaski County the average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days is 3.3, according to the County Health Rankings. The National Benchmark* is 2.6. As the second largest city in Pulaski County, the City of North Little Rock saw the need for an Employee Wellness program – and took action.

The City of North Little Rock received technical assistance from the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as an obesity prevention grant through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative, administered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With this assistance, the City of North Little Rock identified areas of need, developed strategies and implemented policy changes to reduce obesity and to promote healthier lifestyles throughout the City. Employee wellness was one area that needed to be addressed.

Employees’ interests and needs were identified through surveys, which saw a 61 percent response rate when employees were offered an hour of paid time off for returning the survey. Employees indicated a desire to learn about buying and cooking healthy food, as well as how to get more physical activity through walking, weight training, and cardio exercises.

As a result, the City implemented a targeted Employee Wellness program. Program members receive membership discounts at city-operated facilities, such as community fitness centers, tennis courts and golf courses. In this tough economy, the price of a fitness center membership is considered a luxury that many people cannot afford. By offering membership discounts to city-operated facilities employees now have health and fitness options that are both affordable and accessible.

Employees can also join one of four weekly lunch-time group walks and earn rewards for attending, such as pedometers, t-shirts and water bottles. This program has gained popularity among staff and residents, with 50 registered walkers since April 2012.
Employee wellness programs are a good investment for employers. Studies conducted by the National Institute for Healthcare Management show that employee wellness program have an approximate return-on-investment (ROI) of 3:1. In other words, there is a $3 return for every $1 invested in an employee wellness program.

The benefits of employee wellness programs are clear: reduced healthcare costs, increased productivity and healthier employees. With those benefits in mind, the City of North Little Rock is an example of how a city government’s commitment to health and fitness benefits both employer and employee.

(*90th percentile, ie., only 10% are better)

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