Promoting healthy habits on a budget

Encouraging wellness and fitness in the workplace does not require a large budget or a huge effort. Sometimes, it just requires a little opportunity and a bit of encouragement.

Apple Growth Partners, a 90-person firm with offices in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, has an informal approach to wellness that is helping to create a culture of better health for its employees.

"We have pretty much an informal wellness committee here. There are five members, two in Cleveland and three in Akron. I head it up. We have no budget so we just try to do some things that are free," Jane Earlenbaugh, payroll and benefits manager at Apple Growth Partners, told AccountingWEB.

In the summer of 2009, using pedometers provided by their health insurance carrier, employees monitored their steps. Earlenbaugh said that they felt that was limited because it was counting the steps they did normally throughout the day and not necessarily encouraging them to do more. So in the summer of 2010, the office walked to Hawaii.

They computed the distance from Cleveland and set up a map. They even created a little Apple character to mark their location. Every Monday, the participants would enter their weekly miles on the chart and Earlenbaugh would move their little Apple icon around the map so that everyone could see the team's progress.

Rather than using pedometers, the firm asked participants to figure out a walking route and keep track of their own distances. They could figure out convenient routes on Mapmyrun.com and walk or run whichever route they felt like on a particular day. To celebrate the completion of their walk to Hawaii, participants had a luau at a local restaurant. Approximately two-thirds of the office participated in the program.

According to Earlenbaugh, fitness is only one aspect of wellness. Last year before tax season the firm had a stress management speaker visit. This year they had a nutritionist come in to speak about healthy eating options in the office and when going out to eat.

Apple Growth Partners is slowly changing its office culture to be more health conscious. Though the committee has no budget, it gets money from the entertainment committee for food. During tax season, food has a big presence in any accounting office. Unfortunately, it becomes very easy to eat the less healthy kinds of food.

Last year, Apple Growth Partners replaced its standard Saturday donuts with yogurt, fruit, and other healthier fare for one day. While some missed their donuts, many others were glad to have the healthier alternatives. This year, the wellness committee is planning two "healthy food" Saturdays, but also making sure to include donuts because this is all about choice.

"One other thing we are going to try during tax season is to have a healthy snack once a week, such as almonds or [oranges] or something like that," said Earlenbaugh. "We are investigating, regarding our vending machines, to see if we could get maybe some kashi bars or instant oatmeal in addition to the candy bars and stuff that is normally offered."

It's great when a wellness and fitness plan has a big budget to work with. But Apple Growth Partners' approach shows that improved health is available even without a budget.

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