By Deanna C. White
From January 1 to April 15, most CPAs look like the accountant in Norman Rockwell's famous Saturday Evening Post cover "Taxes" – hunched over for hours in an anything-but-ergonomic chair, spine curved like a shepherd's hook over a tempest of papers, the only sustenance in sight is a forgotten pot of coffee wedged between old ledger books.
But this isn't the case for Stephanie Turner, CPA and supervisor at Faw Casson & Co., LLP
of Dover, Delaware.
By the time Turner hits the office, she's already energized because she's already hit the gym. She fuels herself with water and healthy snacks, such as granola bars and fruit that are always available in the Faw Casson break room. At lunch, she relieves stress by strapping on her company-issue pedometer and walking with her coworkers on one of the trails surrounding the office.
Denise Chas offers the following tips for firms aspiring to start a wellness program:
- Emphasize that change isn't going to happen overnight.
- Start gradually . . . but just get started.
- Contact a health professional to help you design and guide your program.
It's all thanks to the comprehensive wellness program Faw Casson instituted for its employees nearly four years ago.
The program – a top-down commitment to healthy living and the physical and spiritual well-being of each of its forty employees – recently earned Faw Casson the title of one of the fittest accounting firms in the nation in AccountingWEB's 2011 Fittest Accounting Firms survey.
"Since the firm instituted its wellness program, healthy living has just become part of my routine," Turner said. "[Faw Casson] has made a commitment to us. They've shown us they're willing to invest in their people on a personal level. It really makes me appreciative, and it makes me want to work harder. I feel a great sense of loyalty because I know the firm is truly concerned about who I am."
After the survey, AccountingWEB named the three winning firms based on criteria that included:
- Fitness activities offered within the accounting firm
- Wellness programs and coaching offered to employees
- Firm-wide encouragement of fitness activities during the workday
- Reimbursement programs for fitness/wellness activities
- Firm-wide team sports
- Fitness incentive programs
- Availability of ergonomic furniture/equipment
Participating firms competed with others in the same size bracket, and one winning firm was selected from each bracket. Faw Casson was the winner of the midsize firm bracket – firms with eleven to fifty members.
Denise Chas, the director of marketing, said Faw Casson's wellness program began gradually four years ago, when employees started noticing they were gaining a lot of weight and losing a lot of stamina during the stressful tax season.
"We were staying in the office all the time with food that wasn't wholesome, and it was really draining," Chas said. "It was like you could almost see people ooze out of their cars when they got to work in the morning."
Chas said the firm decided to combat the problem by capitalizing on its employees' good-natured competitive spirit. It sponsored an informal weight loss challenge modeled on the Biggest Loser hit TV series.
"That kind of got the ball rolling," Chas said. "It allowed everyone to choose what was right for them."
And that ball kept rolling long after tax season.
Chas said Faw Casson started small by making gradual healthy changes for employees. They replaced the lunchroom's "empty calorie" sodas and candy bars with granola bars and filtered water. They also bought pedometers so employees could track the steps they walked every day.
Today, the firm has a comprehensive wellness plan. A nutritionist comes in monthly for "lunch-and-learn" wellness and nutritional living coaching sessions, and the firm has a monthly walking challenge. All staff members still receive pedometers, and competitions have been organized for both individuals and teams. The firm provides mapped routes that employees can walk during lunch.
Last year during tax season, they revived their Biggest Loser contest. A nutritionist oversaw the weekly weigh-ins and provided one-on-one mentoring regarding weight loss and nutritional goals. All totaled, firm employees lost 121 pounds in twelve weeks.
Chas said the transformation has been marked. One of the firm's CPAs has become a certified personal trainer, and a managing partner routinely gets up at 5:00 a.m. to walk several miles before going to work.
Chas' personal goal is to run 750 miles this year, and Turner hits the heavy bag at her regular kickboxing classes instead of the drive-thru on her way home from work.
The benefits have extended far beyond the walls of the Faw Casson offices. Today, teams of employees regularly participate in fitness-centered charity events, such as the Delaware Mud Run to benefit the Leukemia Research Foundation of Delaware, and Bike to the Bay to Create a World Free of MS. Employees also decided to donate 121 pounds of food (and then some) to a local food pantry to match their latest Biggest Loser weight loss achievement.
But the biggest benefit of the Faw Casson wellness program, both Chas and Turner agree, is the bond it's forged between members of the Faw Casson team.
"The fitness program has really made me accountable not only to myself, but to others. It's built a real sense of esprit de corps," Turner said. "The weight loss is a bonus, but the camaraderie, especially in times of stress, is tremendous."