Welcoming atmosphere helps attract employees

Wellness center emphasizes the personal touch

When Borg-Warner Automotive (BWA), the Bellwood, IL-based manufacturer of friction plates and clutches, opened a new fitness center for its employees in February 1997, the foundation had already been laid for a successful program.

As part of a careful planning process, even the design of the new BWA Wellness Center was part of a strategy to make employees feel welcome, create an atmosphere that would encourage participation, and meet each employee’s needs.

The 4,500-square-foot center was built by Borg-Warner Automotive and is managed by Chicago-based Advocate Fitness/Advocate Health Care. Advocate, a system of eight hospitals with 180 sites of care, provides Borg-Warner with the Wellness Center staff, a kinesiotherapy program, fitness assessments, and marketing services.

They must be doing something right: To date, 288 of the company’s 971 employees, or 30% of the total population, have become members.

A whole new environment

Advocate was looking for the antithesis of the manufacturing plant environment in which the employees work all day.

"One of the first things we considered [in the center’s design] was the environment and culture," explains Teresa Taylor-Dusharm, director, Advocate Fitness. "The center is nicely carpeted, with plants, windows, and brightly colored staff uniforms."

"The employees come from a fast-paced and highly repetitive factory environment into a well-lit, bright atmosphere," adds Amy Rauworth, fitness manager, Advocate Fitness/Borg-Warner Wellness Center. "There are windows, mirrors, and a positive feel to the fitness area."

The center’s U-shaped design adds to the welcoming atmosphere. "When you walk in, the desk is right there; there’s always someone there to welcome you by your first name," says Rauworth.

"We wanted the staff to be the first thing the employees saw," explains Taylor-Dusharm, noting that staff interaction with employees is another critical factor in the center’s success. "Every member has a personal mailbox at the center so the staff can communicate with them on a regular basis." This communication process includes follow-ups on the employee orientation program, fitness assessment reports, and so forth.

From the moment employees join Borg-Warner, they are made to feel part of a family. That sense of belonging and the personal touch, permeates the wellness program, as well.

"The family atmosphere is very visible here; people really know each other," says Louise Barsevich, health service coordinator, Borg-Warner Automotive. "I joined the company three years ago when the center opened, and I felt welcome right away. We have mothers and daughters who exercise together, husbands and wives, [and] sisters, who work out together and encourage each other."

The center has a bulletin board with pictures of family members on it, with a headline that asks: "Who do you work out for?"

"We have one father-in-law who encourages his son-in-law to work out; he wants him to be there for his grandchildren," says Barsevich.

When employees join the wellness center, they also receive personal attention. "Our wellness program is comprehensive," notes Barsevich. "But one of the things that makes it unique is that it addresses the whole person, not just one or two health aspects."

That’s why the center is called a "wellness" center, rather than a fitness center. "We wanted the employees to realize the program is about more than just exercise," Rauworth explains. "We address the individual’s mind, body, and spirit aspects of their health." (For a closer look at some of the program’s offerings and results, see the charts, left, and on p. 30.)

Even the health risk appraisal the center uses takes that into account. "It is an instrument designed to assess both health risk and specific interests of the employee, so the individual needs are addressed," says Taylor-Dusharm.

"We try to meet the employee at a personal level," explains Rauworth. "We want to listen and respond to their needs — not just risk factors."

To do that, the staff uses the Stages of Change model. "This way, we can meet every member where they’re at," notes Taylor-Dusharm. "We set up a wellness plan that outlines where we’d like them to be, but their interests are bought into the plan of action."

"Through their folder, we communicate with the member about where they fall within the wellness spectrum, what their personal goals are, and what the staff’s goals are for them," adds Rauworth.

Borg-Warner 1999 Wellness Activities, Participation
• Total number of visits: 14,319
• Average number of visits per month: 1,301
• Increase in membership: 0.5%
• Number of new or renewed memberships: 69
• Total number of fitness assessments: 78.25
• Total number of blood pressure screenings: 392
• Total number of kinesiotherapy appointments: 355
• Increase in number of kinesiotherapy visits: 240
• Cost savings from kinesiotherapy program: $51,475
• Hours of production time saved: 887.5
Event No. of Participants (Per-Month Average)
Injury Prevention Program 120
Anniversary Party 300
That’s Fitness! That’s Entertainment! 90
Random Acts of Kindness Week 275
Membership Drive 7
Team Day 750
Health Fair 750
Fitness Bingo 50
Taste of Bellwood 500
Chase Corporate Challenge 200
Halloween Blood Pressure Checks 40
Random Acts of Kindness 200
Holiday Weight Maintenance 85

Spreading the word

The wellness center staff begin the communication process with employees during orientation, when brochures are distributed about the program. The staff then maintain a constant visibility throughout the facility, and not just at the center.

"We have a stretching and strengthening program in the plant, which is conducted on the plant floor during working hours," says Barsevich. "The staff of the wellness center will come down and provide instructional programs, and encourage the employees to come to the center and learn the programs themselves."

The injury prevention module, part of an innovative kinesiotherapy program at Borg-Warner, is also incorporated into the daily work life of the employees. The workers at Borg-Warner are organized into a team structure, with team leaders holding "huddles" each day. The wellness center staff regularly provide team leaders with wellness information to be shared during those meetings.

The staff are now looking to extend their reach even farther. "This year, we’re expanding the program to incorporate people who are not members of the wellness center," says Barsevich.

One new program targeting nonmembers is a walking group. To encourage participation, staff members walk into the plant wearing bright T-shirts, encouraging other employees to join them. An afternoon nurse in the medical center will also go out and help people walk. The staff hope participants will also want to join the center, "But if we don’t get them to join but just walk, we’ve still accomplished something," says Barsevich.

The program is constantly promoted, with enrollment drives linked to specific themes. For example, in February, American Heart Month, "Give Your Valentine a Healthy Heart" was the promotional theme.

But all of those efforts would be for naught without the strong support of Borg-Warner; the leadership of the BWA management team was instrumental in its early success. "Advocate can bring these resources to a company; but if a company is not ready to receive them, you can’t force it on them," notes Taylor-Dusharm. "Support from top management is the critical piece. That’s why the program has been so effective at Borg-Warner."

[For more information, contact: Amy Rauworth, Borg-Warner Automotive Wellness Center, 700 25th Ave., Bellwood, IL 60104. Telephone: (708) 547-2878. E-mail: arauworth@ats.bwauto.com.]