Florida Firm Leaving Wellness Footprint

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By Deanna C. White

Florida-based certified public accounting and consulting firm Markham Norton Mosteller Wright & Company (MNMW) kicked off the New Year and tax season on a healthy note this January by launching its new workplace wellness program – the Path to Wellness.

Employees at MNMW, which has offices in Fort Myers, Naples, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, have always been spontaneously health conscious. Christi Sarlo, MNMW marketing manager, says the firm's employees are always willing to join in collective fitness efforts, such as the annual WINK News Feeds Families Hunger Walk for the Harry Chapin Food Bank, or encouraging coworkers to pick up an apple instead of a bagel for an afternoon snack.

But this year, Sarlo said the firm decided to formalize those efforts and reinforce a healthy lifestyle for its team members by establishing the Path to Wellness program.

"The objective of the Path to Wellness program is to inspire the team to make smart choices when it comes to healthy eating, exercise, and overall wellness, Sarlo said. "We want them to realize that it's not hard to be healthy, but it's a long-term process. Being healthy is like following a path, and we want to help them follow that path."

Gail Markham, CPA, MNMW founding partner and head of the litigation, forensic accounting, and mediation services team, said the firm's partners believe the positive impact the program will have its on its employees is more than worth the time and effort.

"We want our employees to feel well inside and out", Markham said. "This program will not only educate our team about eating healthy and exercising, but will also assist us in making choices that influence our moods, social lives, and finances."

Sarlo said MNMW's Path to Wellness was inspired by the Healthy Lee County program, sponsored by the Horizon Council and the Lee County Economic Development Office of Lee County, Florida, as well as the American Heart Association's Fit-Friendly Worksites program

"The firm's partners recognized the need for a formal program to educate and encourage team members to take care of themselves by eating healthier and making exercise a staple in their daily lives", Sarlo said.

The firm launched the program January 21 with a ninety-day health challenge designed give employees a little guidance in making healthy decisions and to keep team members engaged and excited about the Path to Wellness program, even during the demanding tax season.

Partnering with the Lee Memorial Health System (LMHS) of Fort Myers, the firm invited physicians and nurses from LMHS to conduct individual health assessments on MNMW employees, which included a detailed health questionnaire and a routine medical screening, including body mass index measurement, cholesterol testing, and blood glucose testing. Then, physicians met confidentially with MNMW team members to review the results.

Over the course of the challenge, which ends April 19, participating team members will engage in a wide spectrum of healthy activities in hopes of improving their overall health. 

LMHS is providing a weekly newsletter and videos to keep everyone on track, while MNMW is providing healthy dining choices, such as fresh fruit for breakfast. and nutritious lunch choices, such as humus, turkey breast, and vegetables.

The firm is also promoting healthy activities and competitions to motivate team members to stay focused and involved during the challenge.

MNMW has provided pedometers to all employees and gives prizes to team members who walk the most steps during the workday. The firm also distributes two internal e-mails every day; the first offers a healthy tip to keep the team motivated and educated about healthy living, and the second provides a daily "deskercise" – an exercise or stretching technique that can be done at the team member's desk or in the break room.

In just over a month, the team members say they can already feel the positive energy generated by the new program.

"The buzz around our office has been incredible! The feedback has been very positive, and management has been doing a good job at maintaining the momentum since the program was launched", Sarlo said. "Everyone is developing good eating habits and beginning to realize that small changes can make a big difference. Our energy level also seems to be very high because of the new eating habits."

At the end of the ninety days, Sarlo said MNMW hopes team members will see a measureable physical improvement in their follow-up assessments conducted by LMHS. The firm also hopes its team will leave the challenge buoyed with the excitement to make a long-term commitment to the firm's Path to Wellness program and a lifelong commitment to healthy living.

As the Path to Wellness program develops in the coming years, Sarlo said MNMW plans to consider adding such benefits as gym and wellness center memberships to keep employees focused on fitness.

MNMW partners say they're more than willing to make this commitment to the Path to Wellness because they believe a healthy workforce is perhaps the greatest investment they can make for their clients and their firm.

"There are still some people who have the perception that a workplace wellness program takes a lot of time and a lot of money. But our firm believes that a well-planned wellness program doesn't take away from the team's productivity or workload", Sarlo said. "Instead, we believe, there are ways to structure a wellness program that can complement peoples' busy schedules by implementing small, healthy changes and exercises that can be done while working. The end result is a happy team who recognizes leadership's efforts to make the workplace better. Therefore, everyone works harder and smarter."

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