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CEO's doughnut decision leads to wellness engagement

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MINNEAPOLIS — The success of corporate wellness programs depends on a combination of executive leadership and simplicity, speakers said Wednesday at World At Work’s Total Rewards 2015 Conference and Exhibition in Minneapolis.

Susan M. Piglia, associate vice president of corporate wellness for Jefferson, Louisiana-based nonprofit health care provider Ochsner Health System, said her company’s road to a successful wellness program began in 2008 when its then-CEO realized that efforts to improve employees’ health were being undercut by the unhealthy foods served in company cafeterias and meeting places.

Accordingly, Ochsner eliminated doughnuts from meetings and also cut back on the number of days fried chicken was served before eventually replacing it on the menus with baked chicken.

“If our CEO didn’t make that decision on doughnuts, we would not be where we are today,” Ms. Piglia said, noting that the employees participating in the company’s wellness program have lost a collective 52,000 pounds since 2008. “Your leadership has to be involved.”

Ms. Piglia also credited the company’s wellness awards provider, Framingham, Massachusetts-based Virgin Pulse, with providing a streamlined backend technology for the program. Employees are given a free, app-based pedometer to help keep track of their daily steps. Employees who accumulate 20,000 “health miles” annually through walking or other healthy behaviors are given a discount on their health insurance premiums, Ms. Piglia said.

“When it comes to employee engagement, the No. 1 thing that you can do is to keep it simple,” she said.

Jacquelynn Russell, Chicago-based regional sales director for Virgin Pulse, said wellness programs need to both match people with the right healthy behaviors and make sure that those behaviors are easy to do.

“What we’ve seen with the launch of our new platform is that you need to provide a broad range of activities for people to do in all areas of well-being,” Ms. Russell said.