The town of Colchester was awarded a gold worksite wellness award from the Vermont Dept. of Health and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports this week for their commitment to a healthy, active workplace for their employees.

While the town has participated in the state’s worksite wellness program for about 20 years, said deputy town manager Geoffrey Urbanik, this is the first time they have been recognized for their efforts.

The worksite wellness program was originally formed over 20 years ago by the Governor’s council and initially focused on increasing activity in employees’ lives, said Ashwinee Kulkarni, public health specialist with the Dept. of Health. The department has always advised the council on worksite wellness, she explained, but this is the first year the two have officially partnered and given out joint awards.

“We’ve made some changes to it over time, it spans more than just the scope of physical activity,” she explained. “It looks at all different types of worksite wellness activities, from having leadership that supports their employees to pursue wellness, physical activity, nutrition, breastfeeding supports for nursing mothers at the workplace.”

The two organizations awarded 129 worksites with wellness awards for the 2019 application cycle, 80 of which were gold, 43 silver, four bronze and two rising star, for those workplaces just getting started with the program.

Colchester was awarded a gold worksite wellness award from the Dept. of Health and the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for its focus on healthy habits in the workplace.

Any company with more than one employee can start a worksite wellness program and apply for the award, Kulkarni said. The process starts with building a worksite wellness team and then collaborating on ideas and implementing them in the workplace.

“We have representatives from every department on the team,” Urbanik said of Colchester’s worksite wellness program. “They organize a number of wellness things: sometimes it’s lunch and learn; it could be special workshops; it could be nutrition programs that employees subscribe to, and encouraging exercise, nutrition and weight loss.”

The award application asks about 80 questions on topics such as physical activity, nutrition, breastfeeding, tobacco cessation support, preventative care, and emotional well-being, as well as what kind of leadership and supports are in place for those topics. Kulkarni explained awards are distributed by total number of points, so one category isn’t emphasized over another.

For workplaces that participate in the program, Kulkarni said the benefits are two-fold:

“There’s benefits obviously to the employees’ health and well-being, but also to your own business,” she said. “Research shows that there’s improved productivity, there’s better retention, reduced turnover, and then obviously healthcare costs…go down.”

Urbanik echoed her sentiments, explaining the program has been beneficial to the town and its workers.

“We get a lot of participation and…it’s good to see our employees engaging in these activities,” he said. “We think a healthy workforce is a better workforce.”

Urbanik also said the town’s health insurance company takes notice too, and has funded several wellness grants for the town over the years, which have paid for things like the exercise room in the basement of the town offices.

“It’s definitely a benefit for the employees, a benefit for the organization, not just in a healthy living way, but certainly there’s a return through having a healthier workforce,” he said.

Kulkarni added the awards are just a nice way to recognize those worksites that are participating in wellness programs, and shows their employees they care about their health and well-being.

“It just demonstrates officially that they’ve made this commitment and gives them something they can say when they’re hiring or even to their own existing employees,” she said.

To learn more about the worksite wellness program, visit http://healthvermont.gov/worksite-wellness.