With 25 years of experience in human resources, Susan Brewer was used to seeing an increase in expected medical claims each year. However, for the 2014 renewal, she has seen the number of claims drop by 5 percent.
“This is the first year since I’ve been here, or at any company I can remember, that our expected claims came in lower than the previous year,” she said.
Brewer is the director of human resources and information technology at Gray. Formerly the James N. Gray Construction Co., and referred to locally as Gray Construction, the company was rebranded simply as “Gray” last year. Brewer joined the company in 2004. In 2008, Gray management decided to get serious about wellness and go beyond organizing softball teams and offering blood pressure checks at health fairs to creating a company-wide culture of wellness.
“There is a lot of business sense to wellness,” Brewer said. “Wellness is about physical health, mental health and financial health.”
With around 500 employees across the country, 175 of whom are in Lexington, Gray’s expected claims dropped 5 percent for the 2014 renewal period. Administrative plan fees did go up, but the reduction in expected claims is allowing the company to keep team member premiums level for 2014.
“For a multimillion-dollar health care plan, that’s a big deal,” Brewer said. “The national average increase for 2014 is 7 percent.”
Gray invests time, energy and money to give team members the tools they need to evaluate their own personal health, in keeping with the company’s core value of putting safety and quality of life first.
“We’ve been on this healthy wellness culture for five years and are starting to see some return on investment,” Brewer said. “Knock on wood — we want to see that trend continue.”
In partnership with KC Wellness, Gray team members and their spouses are offered a biometric screening, free of charge, to measure five key numbers: blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, glucose and triglycerides.
Brewer receives a composite biometrics report with group statistics — no names — to identify wellness priorities for the coming year. Based on the numbers, one year’s focus could be weight management and nutrition; another year’s would be managing stress.
“Our blood pressure and cholesterol numbers both declined last year,” Brewer said. “People are making changes.”
Some of the internal programs at Gray include Weight Watchers, smoking cessation and Dave Ramsey’s “Core Financial Wellness” plan. Through Virgin HealthMiles, which was started by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, team members at Gray can earn up to $500 a year by walking. Gray purchases the initial $35 pedometer and each participating employee kicks in $5 per month. Data from the pedometer is synced online.
“It heightens your awareness of how much you move or don’t move during the day,” Brewer said. “That’s the kind of program we thought was very helpful.”
Gray has been recognized as a fit-friendly company by the American Heart Association. In June, the construction company won first place in Bluegrass Wellness at Work’s fitness challenge and achieved diamond status in the category of Healthiest Places to Work in the Bluegrass.
“We’re a very competitive bunch,” Brewer said. “We were really excited to see how much people were focused on that challenge. You get a lot of people engaged, and that can change behaviors.”
The Lexington office has a small gym in the basement. Fresh fruit and nuts are always available in the café and offices. Instead of an ice cream social from time to time, the company has a frozen yogurt bar.
Yes, there are still vending machines.
“It’s not that you can’t ever have anything bad,” Brewer said. “We all need a treat every now and then, but in moderation.”
In recent years, team members who participated in the annual health assessment were offered an incentive of $180, added to their paychecks in monthly increments of $15. This year Gray offered a one-time $150 prepaid Visa card, which employees liked better and which cost the company less, for a win-win.
One of the national trends in the field of workplace wellness, posited by Dee Edington in the book Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, is placing a focus on not getting worse, as opposed to looking toward improvement.
“As we age, and with lifestyle changes, we tend to get less healthy,” Brewer said. “If you can keep that at zero, you’re making ground.”