MONCTON, N.B. — Though it seems like the trucking industry is just recently making strides towards promoting a healthy lifestyle to its staff and drivers, at Armour Transportation Systems, wellness programs are nothing new.In fact, Armour, located in Moncton, N.B., launched its impressive wellness program more than eight years ago, and so far has seen improvements in all facets of business.
“We call (the wellness program) Shift Gears, Live Well,” said Alisha Armour, internal marketing and wellness manager at Armour.“And our vision is to enhance everyone’s quality of life. We encourage and support an environment of wellness through opportunities that will promote healthy lifestyles in a healthy workplace.”
The program started in 2006 when president and CEO Wesley Armour suggested a solution to the company’s rising group insurance costs.
“Within our company it’s a 50/50 cost share between the company and the employee,” said Alisha. “So what we wanted to do was address that issue and show our people that we weren’t only concerned about the bottom line, but that we wanted to do something to help improve their health and well-being.”
Shortly after the launch, Armour joined forces with Medavie Blue Cross and conducted an optional health risk assessment for employees who wanted to know more about their health and well-being. The assessment indentified four risk factors that were apparent across the company: weight control, physical inactivity, smoking and stress and coping ability. After learning this, Armour decided to base its wellness program and initiatives around these pillars to help their employees and staff better themselves.
“The goal is the program is to create opportunity and that’s the key word that we emphasis when talking to employees about these initiatives,” said Jane Graves, human resources supervisor and wellness representative at Armour. “The opportunities are there for people to participate so we can plan and promote and provide resources so they can decide if they want to participate.”
And they aren’t kidding. Currently, the program includes a multitude of things to help drivers and staff become healthy.The company offers driver health orientations and seminars, sleep apnea testing, a corporate discount on gym memberships, a smoking cessation program, a stretch program, a yearly clinical assessment with a flu shot, and activity challenges (just to name a few).
In its driver orientation program, Armour makes a point to discuss the wellness program with its new recruits. Among other things, the wellness seminar allows new employees to think about what they eat on a daily basis, how much caffeine they consume a day, and if they exercise.
“We also present to them a meal plan that’s been developed by a dietician,” said Graves. “And we take a label of a food product and get them to look how much sodium and fibre and sugar are in the foods they eat.”
As part of their initiative to get their staff active, the company also created activity challenges open to all employees.
“We had 52 teams from across Atlantic Canada in our Go Team challenge and 31 people participated in our President’s Pace challenge where a grand total of more than one million steps were accumulated over a four-week period,” said Shanna Dryden, one of the more than 60 wellness representatives at Armour.
The company says participation in these activity challenges has seen a steady increase over the years as weekly prizes, grand prizes and friendly competition bring an element of fun to the contest. Every year, the wellness committee makes a bet with its various vice-presidents that they will exceed their participation goal. Last year, Dave Miller, the v.p. of human resources, loss prevention, safety and compliance had to wear a chicken suit at the annual company golf tournament. This year, for surpassing their participation goal, v.p. of operations, Don Rawle will have to run 18 holes before the golf tournament begins.
Alisha said the program wouldn’t exist without the support and buy-in from the company’s senior management team, something they do not take for granted.
“I think a lot of companies struggle out of the gate because they have to get that buy-in from their management team and that may be what prevents or delays some wellness programs from getting off the ground,” she said. “We really do try to make it fun and it’s been great having support from our management team in doing this.”
Alisha Armour added that the wellness program did its job by curbing insurance costs for the company. It has been so successful, in fact, that the company hasn’t seen a group insurance rate increase in seven years.
“In 2013 we actually had a very significant surplus, which we gave back some of that money in a premium holiday – a couple of pays where we didn’t deduct group insurance from our participants,” said Alisha. “We wanted to give that back as a way of demonstrating that we appreciate and thank our people and their families who are participating in the program.”
The program allows staff and their spouses to participate because having a supportive family unit who is also learning about their health is important, according to the company’s beliefs.
“I think that what we’ve concluded is that we needed to reach the home and the best way of doing that is including the spouse,” Armour said. “If it’s something that you’re doing with your spouse and making it available, it will be more successful.”
The company also believes the most successful part of the wellness program is the dual flu shot and annual clinic assessment that takes place in the fall.
“That’s the most important thing that we offer because it could the only time that someone sees a health care provider over the course of the year and they can conveniently do it during work hours,” she said.
The clinical assessment, which only takes about 15 minutes to complete has seen many success stories and even helped one staff member immediately, who was unaware of the severity of their health problems.
“There was one person at the clinical, their blood pressure was so high that the nurse called immediately and they were taken to the hospital by ambulance and they had no idea they had high blood pressure,” said Graves. “That person is now regulating their blood pressure and trying to be more healthy.”
In addition to the variety of wellness seminars and programs Armour offers, it also equips its new trucks with fridges and coolers that play a part in helping drivers make better food choices. Drivers are encouraged to bring meals with them on the road, ultimately helping them avoid fast food.
Armour was also aware of the large majority of drivers that smoke on the job. Its smoking cessation program, which covers half of the cost of quit smoking aids (like nicotine replacement gum and patches) has seen many drivers throw their cigarettes out the window.
One driver in particular, Alcide Cormier, a company driver with Armour for 16 years quit cold turkey after Armour brought in an expert to talk about the benefits of quitting smoking.
“Whatever I learned in that program, it really helped me quit,” said Cormier who hasn’t smoked a cigarette in almost six years. “Before the program I had tried to quite a few times, and I would stop for two or three weeks and then start again.”
The tip that stuck with Cormier that he learned in the program was for him to change his routine – instead of smoking a couple of smokes first thing in the morning, he would get out of his truck after waking up and take a brisk 30-minute walk.Cormier says he is grateful for Armour’s wellness programs and that quitting smoking hasn’t only improved his health, but his the size of his wallet too.
“Back when I smoked I was spending $75 a week on smokes,” he said.
After he quit, Cormier decided to put $150 a month (only half of what he was spending a month on cigarettes) in a separate account to pay for things he wouldn’t normally buy himself back when he smoked.
“I love fishing and hunting, so anytime I need anything for that I go into that account,” he said. “I always say now, I can buy this stuff now and before all that money would go towards smokes.”
Armour says the success of the program is a combination of the management team, the fun staff and the tangible results.
“There’s been so many success stories over the year and it really motivates us and inspires us to want to do more,” she said. And with one of the most enviable wellness programs in the country, I’m sure she’s right.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface