Case Study – Yakima Products: Make a Wellness Program Pay Off When Employees Are Already Healthy

Lots has been written about putting together a wellness program for employees with some significant health challenges. Obviously, moving employees from high-risk categories to lower-risk categories will have some effect on long-term health care expenditures, as long as employees are staying with the company.

But what about companies with a younger, healthier and more active employees? For these companies, their workers are already engaging in regular physical activity. They’re already in good risk categories. They’re getting great renewal rates from their health insurance companies. A healthy lifestyle is already part of the ‘workplace culture.’

How does an employee wellness program work when employees are already doing pretty “well” on their own?

We sat down with Kimberly Payeur, Human Resources Director of Yakima Incorporated – a leading manufacturer of automotive roof racks, bike racks and cargo fittings for outdoor and adventure sports-related products, located just outside of Portland, Oregon, to find out.

“For us it’s about the employee engagement piece and retention,” says Payeur. “Our population is pretty active on its own. Our goal is to make things as convenient as possible.”

About Yakima, Inc.

Location: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Industry: Sporting/outdoor/adventure goods manufacturing.

# of Employees: 102

# of Employees on campus: 97

Average employee age: +/-40

Yakima’s headquarters is just a few miles from downtown Portland – a city with a young demographic and a heavy cultural interest in activities like mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing and other adventure-type sports. It’s a close fit to Yakima’s product line, and Yakima’s employee base reflects that aspect of Portland and Pacific Northwest culture. “The vast majority is into biking,” Payeur explains, but there are other sports enthusiasts as well – everything from fishing to paddleboarding to hunting and everything in between.

Employee Demand

The company didn’t create a formal “wellness program” from the top down. It wasn’t something dictated by royal edict from the C-suites and imposed on otherwise apathetic employees. At Yakima, Inc., workplace wellness activities are often in response to overwhelming employee demand – from the bottom up.

“We have a very vocal crowd,” laughs Payeur. “A lot of what we do is employee-driven.”

Facilities matter

No wellness program can succeed without some commitment of time, resources and space. Yakima provides important support from a facilities perspective. For example, they recently purchased a new building that included shower facilities on site. The reason: Many employees like to bike to work – and an on-site shower and changing facility made it easy for employees to do so, and get cleaned up and dressed for work right there in the building, and change back to biking clothes when they go home at night.

The on-site showers also facilitate ‘lunchtime rides’ for those who bike (or skateboard, or rollerblade) to work, as well as other lunch-time workouts. The bike rides, especially, are a common lunchtime occurrence at Yakima when the weather is good.

For those employees who aren’t out riding at lunch, or for when Portland’s famously rainy weather precludes lunchtime bike rides or other outdoor activities, the company also provides a fully-equipped on-site kitchen.

And workers take advantage of it. “They bring their groceries,” Payeur says. “Believe me, those fridges are packed!”

That fully-equipped on-site kitchen isn’t just a convenience for budget-conscious employees. Having a full kitchen on site, it turns out, leads to all kinds of follow-on benefits.

For starters, since employees don’t need to go off campus for fast food lunches, they are free to participate in a variety of “lunch-and-learn” events. These the company organizes on a regular basis – to overwhelming success.”

“The employees love it,” says Payeur.

The local economy provides loads of opportunities for lunchtime presentations and seminars for Yakima’s largely health-conscious employees. Vendors and professionals have been more than willing to come in and provide a value-added presentation.

Yakima has an official “no-solicitation” policy, which means vendors and professionals agree not to turn their lunch-and-learn presentations into a straight-ahead sales pitch. But the vendors are, of course, getting the benefit of exposure and certainly picking up some business.

Among the company’s many successful lunch-and-learn and other wellness events:

  • A home-buying clinic
  • Financial wellness and budgeting
  • 401(k)s and retirement planning
  • Investments
  • Fly-fishing clinic
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness boot camp
  • Yoga
  • Pain management
  • Exercising and injury avoidance
  • On-site Dexa scanning
  • Body fat screening and assessment

“We used to do yoga all the time,” says Payeur. The company partnered with a nearby yoga studio to provide regular basic and advanced classes on site. The yoga studio wasn’t providing the classes for free; Yakima paid the studio for their instructor time – and picked up most, but not all, of the cost. The reason: The company found they got better results with a cost-sharing arrangement, where employees actually paid in a nominal amount – $3 per person per class – to participate.

Skin in the game

Yakima has the resources to make the program free for employees, but Payeur believes they get better results when employees ante up a few dollars to participate.

“We almost need to have a little bit of skin in the game,” she says. “If they sign up then they show up, because of the commitment. The last thing we need is… a thousand dollars for a boot camp that one person shows up to!”

The company makes it easy for employees to enroll, even if they don’t walk around with the cash on hand: They can pay by check or even via payroll deduction.

It helps, of course, when employees are naturally active and eager to get moving. The company doesn’t have to drag them out of their seats to attend wellness events. Employees are actively demanding more and more activities.

While Yakima doesn’t have a formal, branded “employee wellness program” in the formal sense, it’s not totally ad hoc, either. Wellness activities are responsive to employee demand, but management does provide financial support for wellness activities beyond the physical plant, and this budget is worked into the company strategic plan every year.

ROI issues

Since Yakima’s workforce is already much more active and fit than many other manufacturers – just by virtue of the area’s culture and the culture of the industry. But culture counts – and Payeur relates that their health insurance renewal rates have been excellent thus far, thanks to very low health care claims.

However, the fact that Yakima’s workforce is fitter than average when they walk in the door for their first day of work means that now wellness program is going to bend the cost curve significantly when it comes to direct health care costs. So Yakima tends to assess its own efforts using indirect metrics like employee participation and engagement rates.

They clearly believe their wellness program is paying dividends when it comes to employee morale, engagement and their overall workplace culture, because they’re doubling down on it by opening an onsite gym – that will be keycard-accessible to employees 24/7.

It’s not a free-for-all, though: Employees sign a waiver agreeing that participation is on their own time, and not ‘on the clock’ – at least for their non-exempt staff.

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