Bud Loprest, president of Toyal America, winner of Global Healthy Workplace Awards 2013, reveals to MSME News Network how they have succeeded at turning around the lives of their employees, while restructuring the workplace into one thet every company desires.
By Heba Hashem
Many companies today claim that they embrace responsibility for their action, by encouraging a positive impact through their activities on the environment and public sphere.
While approaches such as corporate philanthropy, procurement of fair trade goods or creating a shared value may be among the first inclinations for a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, it makes more sense to look within the organisation first. Taking care of employees not only helps in retaining them, but can add value to their lives and to the company.
When Toyal America began looking for a way to boost employee engagement, transforming lives was not their initial expectation; little did they know what was to come.
“We were searching for a way to improve our employee engagement efforts as well as to find a creative way to control our healthcare spending,” Toyal America president Bud Loprest said. The Illinois-based company has been supplying aluminium pigments for automotive and other coating applications since 1987.
After a meeting with healthcare conglomerate Abbott Laboratories, Toyal America’s executive team decided to take on ‘Changes That Last A Lifetime’ – a one year-long behavioural and nutritional wellness programme owned by Abbott Labs.
A twelve-week metamorphosis
The programme began with ‘The Challenge’; a 12-week, full immersion in changing nutrition habits and getting more physical exercise.
“We held company-wide ‘informational’, where Abbott introduced the programme to our employees and their spouses through motivational speakers, nutritionists, and personal trainers. Once the employees signed up, we had a full-biometric screening conducted on the participants to develop their biometric baseline,” Loprest told MSME NewsNetwork.
This data called ‘KYN’, or Know Your Number, forms the basis of the calculations running at the end of the 12-week challenge to determine the risk reductions in basic lifestyle health issues, like coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Once this data was developed, the employees began implementing the elements of the programme, which included daily customised emails with recommended menus, nutritional tips, shopping lists for the week, recipes and motivational advice. It also included an online journal where they could keep their data or write down their thoughts, and at the end of the programme, an essay from the journal had to be submitted to be judged by a panel from Abbott.
“Some employees formed teams and began to work out together. We provided exercise equipment like resistance bands, pedometers, water bottles and gym bags. At the end of the 12 weeks, we conducted a post-challenge screening and this data was compared with the first KYN report. We also brought in fresh fruit, cartons of it, for the whole company during the 12 weeks just to supplement the idea of ‘nutritional compliance’. This also, was an excellent, simple and inexpensive reminder. We still do it at various times of the year,” said Loprest.
The company still announces a ‘fresh fruit month’ every now and then during which, it brings in cartons of fresh fruits and puts them out in the offices and in the production canteen. The idea has proved very successful, according to Loprest, to the extent that employees requested expanded fresh fruit deliveries in a recent company survey.
A shift in mindset
Rather than resisting the lifestyle-change programme, which requires commitment and engagement, Toyal America’s employees embraced the initiative. “It was new, different and free, and we included the whole family,” said Loprest, noting that it was more encouraging to adopt changes with friends and co-workers.
“It was surprisingly easy to encourage the employees to embrace the programme. The support from Abbott was terrific; having the speakers and the informational meetings helped a great deal and the single best decision we made was to include all the family members,” he added.
Since the decision maker about what is put on the table and in the refrigerator often is not the employee, by reaching deeper into the family, the initiative was able to reach the real decision maker. Most importantly, the executive team led by example.
“We all participated in the programme. This is absolutely essential. If the management looks at this as a human resource programme and not a management driven initiative, the effort will fail. You can’t ask your employees to embrace something novel and innovative and good for you and then not participate yourself. So we wound up with full support – the executive team, the management team and the inclusion of all families. That, along with Abbott’s support; we couldn’t lose.”
Time to reap the rewards
To create healthy competition, Abbott also selected a male champion, female champion and a couple champion with each recipient winning US$500 (RM1,544). “We held a post-challenge celebration where all participants and their families came together for a dinner and where we shared the results and announced the winners. It is a truly wonderful and emotional affair when the winners are announced,” Loprest recalled.
It does not end there. After the challenge is concluded and the celebration is held, the daily emails continue for the balance of the year offering advice and recommendations. “We had employees or their spouses make unbelievable transformations in their weight and biometric data.”
The word quickly got around about how much fun the activities were, and results started to show as people began to lose weight and talk about having to buy new clothes. Self-image also improved with the weight losses and the level of energy rose from healthier eating. Within 12 weeks, enthusiasm increased dramatically throughout the workplace.
“Our male champion for 2009 lost 44 pounds and an additional 20 after the challenge. Our female champion lost 22 pounds and being borderline diabetic, she was able to stop taking some of her medications. She and her husband had been unsuccessful in conceiving a child and had actually given up trying.”
“After the challenge and her weight loss and the changes in her reduced medication intake, she winds up pregnant six months in the programme and had a beautiful baby boy.œ” Moreover, in 2011, the programme’s female champion was 63 years old – a proof that any age can achieve great results.
Toyal America’s second objective – controlling healthcare spending was also met. From 2000 through 2005, the company’s expenditure on healthcare rose by a staggering 235% - from US$635,000 in 2000 to US$1.5 million in 2005 and 2006.
“In 2000, our spending per employee was US$9,500 rising to US$13,800 in 2005,” Loprest highlights, adding that their per-employee spending peaked in 2008 at US$17,300. Since the Abbott programme, however, along with other initiatives, their spending per employee has dropped (...) back to the 2007 level of 9(...)US$15,000 – an enviable accomplishment considering the results achieved.
What goes around comes around
Toyal America was one of three winners in the inaugural Global Healthy Workplace Awards and Summits held in London last April. The search for the healthiest workplaces in the world was sponsored by the Cigna Foundation and hosted by the Global Knowledge Exchange Network, together with International Health Consulting and i-genius, whose common goal is to promote awareness of emerging better practices in health and wellness in the workplace.
“Winning the award was very satisfying. We’ve done some pretty innovative things and they’ve paid off, but I’m especially thankful to accept the award on behalf of all the employees and in particular our human resource manager Mary Orga, and our partner at Abbott, senior marketing manager Denise Bianchini. They were tireless in their work”.
The executive team has now approved a resolution where they will match the award and make a US$10,000 donation to a local charity that works with developmentally disabled young adults. The charity also houses a homeless shelter and a temporary home for the victims of domestic violence. “We’ve wanted to do some local philanthropy and now have the motivation to begin the effort”.
Besides adopting Abbott’s programme, Toyal America provides insurance for the whole family. “If we can get the adults on the right track, then logically the kids will follow and we can make a small contribution to improving the healthcare of young people”, Loprest highlights. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the America with type II diabetes rates soaring among young people.
To keep the momentum going, Toyal America launched their fourth challenge in May, and discussions are ongoing about a mental wellness programme, since a large percentage of the company’s pharmacy spending was found to be on anti-depressants and stress-related pharmaceutical products. “We also have some concerns with sleep disorders since our hourly workers work 12-hour shifts and we’re concerned about fatigue and what it might mean for worker safety. This is preliminary, but something that’s on our radar. You’re never done”, Loprest concludes.
Toyal America won the SME award at the Global Healthy Workplace Awards and Summit (in London on April 12) sponsored by the Cigna Foundation and hosted by the Global Knowledge Exchange Network.