Some HVAC companies are finding great value investing in the health of their employees.

Whether it’s company-wide initiatives, or opening an on-site gym, both residential and commercial companies are looking for new ways to improve employee wellness and boost productivity.

Health Matters

John Fanneron, president, BP Air Conditioning, Glendale, N.Y., and the owners of his company, The BP Group, opened a 3,000-square-foot gym for employees, free of charge, in mid 2013. So far, it’s paid dividends, as participation hasn’t gone down, Fanneron said, but it’s actually increased.

“We built this big 35,000-square-foot facility in 2006, and we’ve always had some open space,” he said. “All the younger people kept asking for a gym. We all thought nobody would ever use it. We thought it’d sit there empty. We did nothing, but this past year, a couple of guys in the firm saw we had 3,000 square feet of space upstairs, and these young guys did some design and pricing, and next thing you know, they had a plan in front of us. We talked about it, priced out the machines, and what they gave us came out to about $65,000. And when it came in, we wanted a TV. Then the owner who does the stair climber, wanted a special TV on that, so the price went up to $78,000. We went all-in.”

TDIndustries, Dallas, has long considered employee wellness a big priority. In 2003, the company started reimbursing employees for activities or purchases that aided in a healthy lifestyle. In 2007, it started a Wellness Committee and also an Employee Assistance Program. In 2009, the company engaged a wellness provider to help monitor and provide structure to the program. Now, the company is rewarding employees who engage in a healthier lifestyle.

“Through this systematic approach, TD is able to focus our resources on what our partners really need, leading to sustained behavior changes and eventually real cost savings,” said Maureen Underwood, SPHR, executive vice president, people department, TDIndustries. “That program has grown to involve a reward system for becoming more active physically and educationally by using the tools provided. Rewards for a simple activity, such as completing a health survey, can be achieved. As partners get more involved in activities they can earn points that allow them to have reduced insurance premium rates or use those points to purchase great items such as hotel discounts, electronics, and iTunes gift cards.”

Surprisingly, though, health insurance companies haven’t been impressed, not offering any sort of rebate for the self-starting wellness program. But after seeing what adding the gym has done for the company, Fanneron hasn’t been too concerned about it.

“We were stunned by that,” Fanneron said. “We don’t have any incentive from that standpoint. It’s more the energy level of the people who go up and use it, the retention of the people here, and, I gotta tell you, the camaraderie is changing. It’s really building up the morale. … When you get to be a firm as large as ours, with three companies, people become isolated and little walls build up. That isolation is falling down. People are talking more.”

Underwood said it’s been difficult for TD to monitor reduced health care costs that can be attributed directly to its wellness program, but offering reduced medical premiums has attracted about 30 percent of its workforce to stay committed throughout the year, she said.

“Since the inception in 2009, TD partners has a 38 percent participation rate in our formal wellness program,” Underwood said. “Successes from the program rewards and contests has motivated many to participate that would not have under normal circumstances. TD is continually challenged to identify activities to motivate our field partners who already work in a physical outdoor environment, as well as to identify different activities that appeal to different demographics.”

Commercial companies aren’t the only ones engaging in wellness programs. Applewood Plumbing, Heating & Electric, Denver, is placing a priority on employee health. Vice president Josh Ward said the company offers free yoga and kickboxing classes, along with a weekly boot camp class. It also recently completed a program called “maintain, no gain” over the holidays, where a contest was held to encourage employees to maintain, or even lose, weight during the holiday season.

“It’s another thing that shows we value employees,” Ward said. “We have one person who has lost about 100 pounds. A lot of people are participating, it’s not just fluff. It’s something people really like to be involved in and do, and it’s healthy.

“It’s mostly about getting people involved and thinking about their health. We pay for 100 percent of the health insurance, so we like to know that people are taking care of themselves, that they’re utilizing the services we pay for.”

The investment in these various wellness programs is worth it for the companies, though, because healthier employees have meant better, stronger, more energized workers. That’s been the case at The BP Group, as the company’s two owners are pleased with their return on investment.

“They really believe if we can provide an environment where employee morale is improved, where the environment they work in is improved, then we’re going to have better employee retention, be able to attract better employees, and, therefore, it will pay dividends down the road of improved customer loyalty and customer retention,” said Patrick Gallagher, executive vice president of business development, BP Mechanical. “They can see the big picture. Our greatest asset is our employees.”

That same sentiment was echoed by Harold MacDowell, CEO, TDIndustries, who last year signed “The CEO Pledge,” a movement to increase employee health. He’s since mandated each employee receive a yearly physical, covered by the company.

“Investing in the wellness of each TDPartner is a great investment for our company,” MacDowell said. “A healthy workforce increases productivity and enhances partner engagement and satisfaction, which, in turn, translates into the high quality of work our clients expect from TD.”

Publication date: 3/17/2014

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