Success Story

South Point Federal Credit Union

“Steppin’ Up” to support individual wellness


At SouthPoint Federal Credit Union, management knows that numbers can tell a lot about the health of an organization. So when they received their summary report from the Heart of New Ulm (HONU) with the results from their May 2009 employee heart health screening, the numbers sent a clear message.
“After seeing the report, we knew we really needed to get involved with this,” said Brian Serbus, manager for SouthPoint’s New Um branch. “Helping our employees improve their heart health is good for everyone.”
With 57 employees across three Minnesota branches — Sleepy Eye and Springfield as well as New Ulm — a total of 49 employees and spouses participated in the screening. Angie Pidde, SouthPoint’s training coordinator, said the turnout was “more than we ever expected,” but that the results were “a bit of a surprise.”
“Fifty-three percent of our screening participants had high cholesterol and our obesity rate was 76 percent,” explained Pidde. “We also scored quite low on fruit and vegetable consumption — only about 2 percent of us actually eat five or more fruits or veggies a day. We kind of laughed at that at first, but really, we recognize that it’s true.”
Pidde, whose role also now includes worksite wellness, said another number was quite surprising to the management team. Based on employees’ responses to the screening’s lifestyle questions, the HONU report calculated that their organization could potentially be losing an estimated $152,000 annually in health-related productivity loss. The results indicated that although 5-1/2 of their employees may be physically working, they are not necessarily on the job mentally.
“We want to be as productive as we possibly can, and your productivity is a lot lower when people are stressed out, physically unhealthy or mentally unhealthy,” said Pidde. “$152,000 is a significant number — the equivalent of a couple of employees.”
On the positive side, SouthPoint leaders were pleased with their results regarding stress management and physical activity. The results showed that 86 percent of participants had a normal stress level and more than 57 percent were getting adequate physical activity every week.
“It was refreshing as an organization to know that we are not creating extra stress for our employees around their jobs and their lives; that for the most part they are happy where they are at,” said Pidde.
“Steppin’ Up” to support employees
As a company, SouthPoint did not have an existing wellness program at the time of the HONU screening. After reviewing the summary report with the credit union’s CEO, they knew they needed to “step up” and support their staff to make some healthy lifestyle changes.
Pidde and Serbus said they talk a lot about “personal responsibility” in the credit union, and felt that many areas where they needed to improve, such as managing stress and getting more active, were to a large degree within employees’ own control.
With the help of Holly Glaubitz, a health educator and wellness coordinator from the Heart of New Ulm, SouthPoint created a yearlong wellness program called Steppin’ Up. The program works like this: Every employee was assigned to one of five color-coded teams comprised of 11-12 employees. After deciding on a team name and choosing a team captain, each team was charged with responsibility for coordinating a month-long campaign around a specific health topic twice a year.
During the monthly campaign, team members coordinate activities, send weekly messages via email and post information on a special section on the organization’s Intranet. The weekly messages focus on awareness and reminding people of simple things they can do, such as drinking eight glasses of water each day or tracking if they are eating enough veggies each day. Everyone wears their brightly colored team T-shirts on Fridays to also help show their pride in wellness to the community.
A focus on individual goals
Acting on advice from HONU, the Steppin’ Up program approach did not ask for volunteers, but required all employees to participate as part of a team. However, the program’s focus remains centered on the individual — a strategy that seems to have worked well.
“The employees have really embraced it,” said Serbus. “Everyone is involved, simply because everyone is on a team and each team is responsible for a monthly campaign.”
Pidde stressed, “We are not telling employees what they have to do. They are picking their own individual goals — whether they want to lose weight, maintain it or just want to learn to drink eight glasses of water. The program is customizable to each individual and that’s helped us get more buy-in.”
HONU support and resources go a long way
In addition to the monthly campaigns, the Steppin’ Up program started a number of other initiatives. In the fall of 2009, they started a walking program with an initial focus on counting steps. The program then progressed into conditioning for New Ulm’s Jingle Bell Jam, a four-mile walk/run race held in December. During training, each team calculated their cumulative training miles and the team with the most miles won a prize. More than 21 employees from all three branches participated in the race and the credit union paid their individual registration fees.
SouthPoint also successfully implemented HONU’s Holiday Trimmings, an eight-week program designed to help employees maintain their weight during the holidays.
“The Heart of New Ulm has supported us so well — they are always developing and suggesting different educational things that we can bring to our employees,” said Serbus.
Added Pidde, “Without the Heart of New Ulm as a resource, I don't know how far we would have been able to go with our wellness program. Had they just said, ‘here are your screening results; have fun,’ I really don't think we would have done much more than just said, ‘OK, let’s try to improve.’ They really have been a resource and provided a support system to make us accountable. And that goes a long way, because organizations like ours just don't have the tools and time to research and do all of this.”
From pizza to healthy sandwiches
To complement the Steppin’ Up program, SouthPoint also made significant changes in their food choices for training events. Previously, leaders made food choices with ease in mind, not health. At morning events, breakfast pizza and donuts were the norm, while delivery pizza was always on the table at luncheon events.
“We didn’t really look at the food we provided from a health perspective; we never took that into consideration,” explained Pidde. “Until the Heart of New Ulm screening took place, it was not at the forefront of our minds at all.”
At an educational worksite summit organized by HONU, Pidde said they learned that, “If you are going to give them options to eat, give them at least a healthy option. Otherwise, if you just order pizza, you are sending them a message that they can be unhealthy.”
Now, they offer granola bars and fresh fruit for breakfast events. For incentive prizes at events, they’ve moved from offering only candy and chocolate to options that include gum, juice boxes and bottled water. And where candy used to abound in various individual offices, employees have replaced it with healthier snacks as well. For training lunches, Pidde purchases food for make-your-own sandwiches and provides Sun Chips® and apples.
Of the lunch change, Pidde said, “I’ve noticed that it’s only maybe a couple of dollars more, but employees are getting so much more. They love the idea of being able to have a sandwich instead of pizza, which often bogs them down in the afternoon and makes them tired. They are really receptive to having these healthy choices, which is great to see.”
Formula for success
At an organizational level, SouthPoint has set six goals either to maintain or enhance their scores from the initial HONU screening. They plan to repeat some of the screening tests in May 2010 to determine which heart health risk areas they are making progress in and which areas could still use improvement.
Now that they have taken the first steps with a wellness program and have the support of management, Serbus and Pidde are optimistic they can maintain an ongoing commitment.
“I think that consciously we are making wellness more of a habit,” said Pidde. “It’s not just something that’s out there where we say ‘hey, maybe we will work on this for this month or next month.’ If this (a focus on wellness) is going to be a part of who we are, we know we need to keep talking about our key areas. It’s the consistency of focusing on them every month that will make the difference.”
SouthPoint also realizes the impact of their wellness program and that of the Heart of New Ulm project extends beyond just the immediate New Ulm community.
“The benefits are really countywide, because our staff at the credit union are from different communities,” explained Pidde. “They are bringing information back to their families and to their communities and saying, ‘hey this is a great program.’ It’s exciting for us to be participating in it and everybody is really enjoying it.”