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Zurich North America earns accolades for its grassroots wellness program


Zurich North America has been named one of the nation's Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles by the National Business Group on Health two years in a row for its grassroots wellness efforts.

The wellness activities of the Schaumburg, Illinois-based North American unit of Swiss insurer Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. are spearheaded by volunteer “wellness champion” committees that coordinate wellness activities locally in each of the company's seven U.S. locations, as well as by a wellness champion committee that inspires the insurer's 1,000 telecommuters “virtually” by sending weekly “Fit Bites” to encourage them to get up from their desks and move.

Although Zurich has a paid wellness coordinator in Overland Park, Kansas, who oversees corporate-led initiatives, “we decided we needed a "bottom-up' approach to get more people involved,” said Sarah Staggs, head of benefits for Zurich North America.

For example, on May 23, the day of Ms. Staggs' interviews by Business Insurance for the 2014 Benefit Management Honor Roll®, Zurich North America's Schaumburg office held a lunchtime walk led by Chief Underwriting Officer Mary Merkel, who also serves as one of the company's wellness champions. The evening before, 122 Zurich North America employees had participated in the 33rd Annual J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in downtown Chicago.

“The wellness piece is huge for us,” said Brian Little, head of human resources for Zurich North America and Ms. Staggs' supervisor. “Not only does it help our folks stay healthy, the engagement that it causes is really neat. Just to give you an example, three years ago, we had 50 people participate in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge. Yesterday, we had 122. That has a lot to do with the wellness champions program that Sarah created to get people excited about their own personal health and to be an advocate for others.”

Zurich North America also offers outcomes-based incentives to encourage employees to take steps to mitigate their health risks. Employees can earn up to $200 annually in HealthFirst dollars including a $50 incentive for completing a health risk assessment and biometric screening and $150 additional dollars for meeting three out of four biometric measures: body mass index less than or equal to 27.5; total cholesterol less than or equal to 200; blood pressure less than or equal to 140/90; and glucose levels less than or equal to 100. Employees who don't meet the measures can also qualify for the incentive if they enroll in health coaching. HealthFirst is Zurich's branded corporate wellness program.

The incentive is paid in the form of gift cards rather than cash or a premium discount, because the benefits department thought that would get more employees' attention, according to Kristin Bajorat, benefits consultant at Zurich North America.

“That was a thoughtful decision, because we used to give it back as cash in the paycheck,” Ms. Bajorat said. “But when it's cash in the paycheck, it tends to be forgotten about, especially with direct deposit. Employees don't always look at their paychecks. But when you have a gift card, you remember, "I did something for wellness'.”