Tennessee rolls out recognition for healthy employer programs

Tennessee rolls out recognition for healthy employer programs

June 21st, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Business Around the Region

Every CEO wants to have the latest-and-greatest certification on the wall, to sit a trophy on the shelf and show the world just how great a place their company is.

At least that's what Rick Johnson is betting.

He's the president and CEO of Gov. Bill Haslam's Foundation for Health and Wellness, and this week he rolled out a new workplace recognition program to highlight organizations that promote healthy lifestyles among employees.

The Healthier Tennessee Workplace program will give employers a certificate of recognition, award seal and digital branding if the company meets five healthy criteria, including encouraging physical activity in the workplace, offering healthy eating options, maintaining a tobacco-free environment, enabling employees to track their own health and rewarding employees for participating in healthy activities.

The certification is good for a year, Johnson said.

So far, 170 Tennessee companies have signed up for the program -- but only two of those are based in Chattanooga, said Molly Sudderth, director of communications at the Governor's Foundation for Health and Wellness. The Scenic City was named one of the top 10 most unhealthy cities in the nation, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2013 showed.

And Tennessee as a whole is one of the most unhealthy states in the country. Almost one-in-four Tennesseans smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 31 percent of Tennesseans are overweight, the United Health Foundation reports.

Treating preventable, behavior-based health conditions and diseases directly costs Tennessee $6 billion every year, Johnson said.

"In terms of human suffering, the cost is very high," he said. "In terms of dollars, the cost is unsustainable.

So the state's new program focuses on helping employees make small changes, like taking the stairs or eating smaller portions, Johnson said at a speaking engagement in Chattanooga on Friday.

"You don't have to change your life, just change your day a little bit," he said. "And do it again the next day. And eventually, it will change your life."

Lisa Pate, chief administrative officer at U.S. Xpress, said the program sounds like a good idea, especially since U.S. Xpress is already supporting a wide range of wellness initiatives for employees.

"We do fitness classes all the time, we have an exercise room with equipment, Zumba classes after work -- we are always looking for ways to make our drivers healthier on the road," she said. "We try to be as proactive as possible in promoting employee wellness."

And while Johnson hopes the prestige of the certification will drive employers to take the initiative, he's also sure that employees will be impacted and motivated by what their coworkers and peers are doing.

"This can't be just another government program," he said. "This needs to be a program that engages the private sector in a big way. We need to have a lot of stakeholders all across the state engaged in this in order to make that significant difference."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.