On the Road to Better Health
As a 35-year-old family-owned company, New Ulm-based J&R Schugel Trucking, Inc. prides itself on its commitment and connection to its drivers and their families. The company is known throughout the industry for focusing on what’s important to both drivers and their families as far as their careers and goals.
One of many successes at J&R Schugel: a 5K walk/run In 2009, with the help of the Heart of New Ulm (HONU) project, the company expanded that connection to include efforts to improve employees’ heart health and overall health as well.
Leah Peck, J&R Schugel’s director of human resources, manages the company’s health plan. She explained, “On a daily basis, I am working to either educate, or I call it ‘fight fires,’ with someone who is in crisis or near crisis with a medical issue such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease or lung disease. In our industry, these health concerns are common. Our drivers have a largely sedentary lifestyle. Our office workers sit at a desk all day.”
So when the opportunity arose to become involved in the Heart of New Ulm project, Peck jumped at the chance.
“For me, this is the most exciting project that has been launched in New Ulm in the seven years I’ve lived here,” explained Peck. “We are looking to inspire and motivate change in our community. And our workplace is a great place to start. I really want our employees to have the opportunity to not only make healthy decisions, but to also understand how those decisions, whether healthy or not, affect them in their day-to-day lives.”
Screening was the first step
J&R Schugel has about 100 employees (86 full-time) at its New Ulm headquarters, with another 500 in three states and numerous drivers traversing the country. Prior to getting on board with the Heart of New Ulm project, the company did not have a formal wellness program in place. In partnership with their health insurer, Blue Cross, they sent regular mailings on various health education topics to employees’ homes, but that was pretty much the extent of it
The company took the first step toward launching their wellness program in early May 2009 when they signed on to be one of the first local employers to offer a free onsite HONU heart health screening. The screening results from 84 participants (employees along with some spouses) highlighted three major risk areas: metabolic syndrome (a clustering of risk factors for heart disease), obesity and smoking.
Formalizing a wellness program
After reviewing the screening results, Peck said the company’s executive management committee and the company’s owner all agreed they needed to do something. More importantly, Peck said she felt a large number of employees were definitely motivated to try and look for ways to make lifestyle changes.
They established a wellness committee and publicized a contest for employees to name the program. Holly Glaubitz, a HONU health educator and wellness coordinator, helped the committee set goals for the program, coordinate lunch-and-learn seminars, and set their plans in motion.
“Although we’re a large company in the community, we do not have a full-time wellness person — I do three jobs,” said Peck. “So all of the aid and organization that HONU gave us is something that a busy, frazzled, HR director like myself really appreciates. The official launch of our wellness program and making and developing corporate goals and regular programming didn’t begin until they helped us kick that off. It was just wrapped in a pretty red bow — the HONU staff really helped us put everything together and formalize our program.”
The company’s wellness programming began with a variety of lunch-and-learn seminars. Topics included healthy eating; managing conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol; exercise and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the diet. The committee then spent three months planning for a company-sponsored 5K run to be held on National Run at Work Day, which would officially launch the corporate-wide wellness program. To help employees prepare, they coordinated practice walks/runs on Saturdays and offered progressive running calendars, exercise calendars, tips on healthy eating and more.
“Driven” toward wellness
On Sept. 18, 2009, the company officially launched the “Driven” wellness program, with its slogan of “On the Road to Better Health.” About 60 people participated in the 5K run on the community trail outside J&R Schugel’s terminals in New Ulm, while about 30 employees joined in at the company’s other three facilities. Overall, employees met the event with tremendous success and enthusiasm.
“Afterward, the pride that all of our employees showed in having finished that event was just really huge,” said Peck. “Many of our employees were very inspired.”
A healthy cooking contest held after the race was equally inspiring. The company challenged all employees who like to cook to get creative and bring in a healthy dish. The four contest categories included Mostly Mediterranean, Most Original Dish, Best Tasting, and Most Inspired by J&R Schugel, which meant something that either used the company’s blue corporate color or used ingredients from the many food customers for whom they haul products. Peck said they were encouraged by the enthusiastic participation of employees at all levels — from the mechanics and the maintenance director to management.
The committee made an extra effort to ensure that every detail of the event would promote a truly heart-healthy experience. Along with the side dishes from the contest, the lunch buffet featured fresh fruit and healthy grilled chicken. They served the chicken in the appropriate 3 or 4-ounce portions that HONU staff had educated them about, giving employees first-hand experience in seeing and eating a proper portion size.
Representatives from Blue Cross, as well as J&R Schugel’s health insurance broker and their commercial insurance broker, all volunteered to staff the event, so that all of the company’s executive managers could participate alongside the employees.
Since the kickoff event, Peck said many employees have joined different exercise facilities in the community. The wellness committee made some policy changes to make smoking less convenient at work. They also added a smoking cessation program in the fall of 2009. For employees who participate in Blue Cross’ Quit Smoking program, J&R Schugel pays for their nicotine patches, gum and any program fees.
In other initiatives, the committee is working to provide screenings to employees in their other locations, continue programming on a variety of health topics, and encourage wellness innovation at all levels of the organization. Peck noted that one individual on their wellness committee was so inspired that she came up with an idea on her own to do a “biggest loser” program, which they piloted for 12 weeks. The employee launched the idea, managed it, and created different challenges for participants each week.
“I think change is difficult, and to have an employee want to do something on her own … to take the initiative to do that … we absolutely support it and celebrate it,” said Peck.
On a personal level, Peck has been equally inspired by the HONU program, and said, “You really have to become very dedicated to the goals, and to your own personal goals, to help support the community.”
She joined a progressive running program coordinated by Glaubitz that met at the hospital three mornings a week during the summer. She planted new things in her garden that she had never tried before. She tried new Mediterranean flavors and used a lot more herbs in her cooking. She took classes with the rest of the community to learn how to incorporate more color into meals, increase their nutritional value, and cut back on using butter and salt.
“I just really tried to focus on how I could incorporate little bits of each of those things into our family’s regular routine,” Peck explained.
And, if the Mediterranean Diet class that HONU staffer and registered dietitian Rebecca Fliszar taught one evening is any indication, Peck feels confident the New Ulm community is ready to make changes, too.
“It was packed — there must have been more than 100 people there,” she explained. “It just says something about how much our community loves to cook. We love to create things. We love to give to our families. With this project, the more that people can involve themselves in the community … the more we can teach them to make and create and give these healthy things to their families … that will help us. People want to learn these things. They want to know how they can inspire their family and their future.”
Peck has volunteered on several committees for the HONU project and has emerged as a real project champion in the community.
“Being connected to this project and being able to learn more and use the materials within our company has just helped to inspire so many people,” she said. “If you think about this small group of people here in New Ulm that are working on this, it is just so wonderful. It has been a fantastic addition to our community.”