Its business is designing and building tools and supporting advanced genome and biotechnology research. So it makes sense that Carlsbad-based Life Technologies Corp. would take a special interest in its employees’ health and well-being.
“We can’t shape discovery and improving lives if our own health and well-being are being neglected,” said Erica Shortsleeve, wellness manager for the company. “We are a science-based company that’s involved in every stage of making people healthier.”
Shortsleeve became the company’s wellness manager in July 2008, after Applied Biosystems Inc. merged with Invitrogen Corp., where she’d worked as a benefits analyst and manager. The merged company has 1,300 employees in Carlsbad, a total of about 5,300 in the United States and another 3,000 in other countries throughout the world.
“We started really focusing on wellness two years ago,” Shortsleeve said. “It’s early in the program to look for results, but we’ve gotten an encouraging, positive response from our people and we’re starting to see the effects now.”
Wellness programs are becoming increasingly popular as businesses look for ways to cut their rapidly increasingcosts, and they look for ways to keep workers motivated and feeling rewarded in times when raises can be scarce.
The first step in setting up a wellness program is figuring out just what shape people are in at the outset. It’s a big first step, with a 2007 Archives of Internal Medicine study reporting that fewer than 21 percent of adults nationally are getting an annual physical.
“People who got the health assessment received a $500 discount on annual,” she explained. “We have 87 percent participation.”
Employee costs for preventive care — from mammograms and colonoscopies to regular dental exams — are also fully paid by the company.
Five Goals for Health Improvements
With information from the health assessments, compiled so that individuals remain anonymous, Shortsleeve identified risks and began to look at underlying issues.
“We identified five goals: increasing exercise, tobacco cessation, improving nutrition, reducing stress and preventing illness,” Shortsleeve said.
Exercising has worked its way into the workplace at Life Technologies. Study after study shows a multitude of health threats, from obesity to stroke and diabetes to depression, can be chased away or at least held at arm’s length by regular, moderate exercise. Those same researchers find again and again that getting into the habit of exercising can be a pretty tough challenge.
Shortsleeve persuaded people to wear pedometers to measure how many steps they take each day, with a goal of 10,000 per day.
“Last year, we offered Step It Up, a pedometer challenge to track steps for eight weeks, and we saw our employees increase their activity. A lot of employees discovered how little they move.”
The company set up 12 treadmills set at 2 miles per hour, with computer docking stations so they could participate in meetings and work, or watch movies, while they walk at a moderately slow pace.
They added a 10,000-square-foot exercise facility and hired two full-time staff to help people get the best workout for their individual situations and needs — information that remains confidential.
“We see exercise as huge in our environment and culture,” Shortsleeve said. “We are engaging our employees and allowing them to be their own champions.”
Taking Steps to Fit in Exercise
People also head out the door of the building located a mile from the beach for walks and the company set up a network so people can arrange walking and working out dates.
“Having a buddy system really helps,” Shortsleeve said. “We’re setting up social networking so it will be easy for people to support each other.”
The company’s goal was to get 40 percent of the employees to participate, and already there are 53 percent who are getting more exercise as part of their day. Many of the people who don’t exercise at work participate in activities like running clubs, surfing and sports outside of work, Shortsleeve said.
And employees report that they find themselves sharing exercise classes with Chief Executive Officer Greg Lucier — a sure sign that senior management supports the wellness programs.
Employees, including compensation analyst Jen Frost, like the on-site option.
“My co-worker and I have started taking weekly walks every Tuesday at lunch,” Frost said. “It gets us out of the office and gives us a chance to get outdoors, move around and burn some calories!
“Knowing Life Technologies supports wellness as much as it does makes it easier to put work down and head to the gym for that 5 p.m. workout class,” she added. “While I may be logging back in at night, knowing that wellness as a whole is supported makes leaving — and the reason for leaving — that much easier to do.”
Pete Leddy, senior vice president of global human resources, reinforced the point, saying one of the company’s goals is a healthy and well work force.
“We are committed to providing our employee population with leading health and wellness resources and programs so that they and their families can make healthy choices both at work, and at home,” said Leddy. “Many of the causes of chronic disease can be preventable, through healthy eating, exercise, smoking cessation and health awareness.”
Nutritious Food Available
The company has also started beefing up information on nutrition, since the top health risks are tied to what people eat.
“Sixty-six percent of the food in our vending machines are heart-smart and we’ve positioned them so they’re in the eye-catching spots,” Shortsleeve said. “We have nutrition seminars and webinars, and we’ve compiled a cookbook for people.”
The cafeteria opening later this year will be stocked with healthy food, too.
And stress management has become part of the workplace, with classes in meditation and other relaxation techniques.
All of that leads to happier employees, according to Niren Desai, an internal auditor at the company.
“In my 15-plus years of corporate career, I’ve never seen a company spend so much time and effort in helping employees understand the impact of wellness in their work and personal lives,” Desai said. “The commitment to employee wellness comes from the top, from the senior leadership at Life Technologies.”
Not everyone was crazy for wellness at the outset, Shortsleeve noted.
“When we opened the fitness center, managers were worried that employees may be spending too much time away from work,” she said. “It turns out that they come back sharper and calmer, and people are doing just as much work — but they feel better and they carry that into their lives.”
Marty Graham is a freelance writer for the Business Journal.If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!