Published on December 21, 2017

Staying healthy at work during the holidays

It can be tough to stay active and eat healthy during the holidays. It doesn't help when we're inundated with platters of tempting holiday cookies and other goodies in the company break room, brought in by well-meaning co-workers.

So how do you enjoy the holidays while staying on track with your health goals? How can employers support their employees to take care of both their physical and mental health during the busy and oftentimes stressful holiday season?

Several businesses in the Brainerd lakes area are leading the way in encouraging healthy eating and active living while at work. They're changing the workplace culture by rewarding positive health choices. Employees are not only healthier, but happier, too.

CTC in Brainerd and Baxter has implemented several health initiatives for its 60 employees. The company wellness committee, started in 2008, oversees several health and fitness projects and incentives.
Both CTC offices offer wellness rooms with exercise equipment for staff to use on breaks. Employees sign up online to reserve a machine. A treadmill at the Brainerd office was purchased with help from a grant through Crow Wing Energized. A recumbent bike was donated, so these types of fitness rooms don't have to involve large expenditures, but they can pay huge dividends for employees.

Josh Gibbons, a CTC network administrator, and Michael Moroni, a CTC project and product specialist, meet a few times a week during lunch to walk together on the nearby Paul Bunyan Trail or use the fitness equipment in the wellness room. They also joined the company's "Hold the Line" challenge last April. CTC employees who maintain or lose weight by next April "” or "hold the line" for a year "” will receive a monetary incentive.
Gibbons has lost 35 pounds since the challenge began. He attributes his success to portion control and working out consistently at the office. He's planning to run in his first half-marathon next fall.

"It was a great incentive to start," Gibbons said of the challenge.

Moroni said their regular walks are both physically and mentally beneficial. "It clears your mind a bit more," Moroni explained, of his lunch-time walks. "You go out and get a walk in, and you come back with a different view."
If employees decide to exercise on one of their 15-minute breaks during the day, they're allowed to tack on an additional five minutes to their break. It's a small incentive, but one that has encouraged employees to go for short walks together.

About two years ago CTC began offering healthy vending choices in the break room. Payment is done on an honor system. The set-up was so well received that the Brainerd office now has three refrigerators and a large shelf area filled with various snack and lunch options that employees may purchase. Twice a week employees can also purchase healthy salads and sandwiches that are catered in to the building. Each month the company buys a large box of organic seasonal fruit for employees to enjoy. CTC also hosts employee lunch and learn events regularly that provide a free healthy lunch, along with a speaker or presentation related to a health and wellness topic. 
In the conference room, fruit is usually offered in bowls on the table, along with trail mix. There are small 4-ounce plastic cups now available to dish up the trail mix and a sign that lists the calorie count, along with fat and sugar grams, for each serving cup. It can be tempting during long meetings to keep snacking, but the plastic cups are tools so people can make an informed choice.

Holly Wiebolt, CTC executive assistant, said the goal isn't to take away employee choices, but to make the healthy choice the easiest choice. The break room still offers candy bars and other not-so-healthy options.
"We don't believe in taking away the unhealthy options," Wiebolt explained. "We've done a lot of things to encourage healthy eating and good choices."

Sarah Larson, CTC dispatcher, has worked for the company for 17 years. She said the work culture has changed. Conversations in the lunch room now drift toward how many steps they've taken that day or sharing weight loss and fitness accomplishments.

"It's the norm now. It's just part of your day," Larson said. "We have a great time with it."

Employees also have a Facebook group where they can read healthy lifestyle tips and encourage one another. They can also win prizes for other challenges. Larson won a pair of new tennis shoes one year. They can also win paid time off.

Deanna Olson, fitness coach at Just For Kix in Brainerd, also volunteers through Crow Wing Energized to teach the National Diabetes Prevention Program at CTC for its employees. The lifestyle change classes are free, and businesses like CTC can host them at work to make it easier for employees to attend.

Olson also creates healthy incentives at Just For Kix. Employees just completed a steps challenge where teams of 14 people worked together to log in 6 million steps in 60 days. About 50 people participated in the challenge. All Just For Kix employees may attend on-site fitness classes at the company for free, and they're also participating in a "Hold the Line" challenge.

"We're focusing on long-term results," explained Olson. "We want them feeling good and feeling empowered. We want people to create goals for themselves because that's how health happens."
Kara Mudford, an administrative assistant and wellness committee member at Crow Wing Power, said her company also offers employees lunch and learn events. They also will make salad and sandwiches for employees who wish to pay for them as healthy lunch options.

In addition, Crow Wing Power has a half-mile scenic walking trail behind the building that employees can use during the day, along with a nearby basketball hoop and shuffleboard. There are apple trees along the trail that are picked in the fall and employees may take apples home.

Crow Wing Power also offers its 120 employees healthy vending options in the lunch room. Employees who purchase a healthy snack can have their names put in a monthly drawing to win a bigger healthy snack. They have "Fruity Tuesdays," where employees can purchase fresh fruit at cost in the lunch room. Once a month, Crow Wing Power will supply a variety of lemon, lime, strawberries and other fruits in the lunch room for employees to add to their water to encourage them to drink more water. Crow Wing Power is looking into purchasing one or more under-the-desk elliptical machines that allow employees to work out while working next year, Mudford said.
"They absolutely love it," Mudford said of the healthy options available at work.

Alexa Hayes, health and wellness coordinator for Mills Fleet Farm based at their corporate offices in Brainerd, said it all comes down to balance. She and her team members encourage employees to work on eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, physical intellectual and environmental.

"Often when it comes to wellness programs, we think of programs designed to increase physical activity, sleep and healthy eating," Hayes explained. "While these are all extremely important, there's more to the puzzle. Embracing wellness as a whole is integral to personal happiness and health."

Hayes teamed up with Crow Wing Energized to teach the National Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle chance class for team members within the county. They regularly go on a group walk before the weekly meeting, often making a loop through downtown Brainerd or walking the trails behind Essentia Health's Baxter clinic.

Each year the company offers biometric screenings for employees, where they can earn health insurance premium reductions for getting a free health screening. If they have health concerns, or just want to learn more about what their screening results mean, they also have the opportunity to confidentially speak with a health coach. Team members are encouraged to review their results with their doctor.

Mills Fleet Farm is taking steps toward integrating healthy food choices for employees of its 37 locations. It all starts with simple changes, like offering healthier options when celebrating anniversaries, birthdays and other special events. For example, they recently ordered yogurt parfaits for 60 employees at one celebration, rather than cake or cookies. It was a huge hit, said Hayes.

"It's not about being perfect, but becoming more aware of ourselves and how to better balance our lives to improve our quality of life," Hayes said. "We strive to offer resources or programs to help grow and balance all of our team member's dimensions of wellness."

Tips to avoid overindulging at work
The holiday season can be a fun time around the office, but it can contribute to your expanding waistline. Here are some ways to enjoy the festivities while maintaining your health goals.

AVOID THE CANDY BOWLS. While offering coworkers a bowl of holiday candy is a great way to spread holiday cheer around the office, you might be sabotaging their healthy eating goals "” and your own. Instead, opt for healthier snack options.

EAT WHAT YOU ENJOY. Don't ban all your favorite foods, but save your calories for the foods you truly look forward to during the holidays.

BE MINDFUL OF PORTIONS. Indulge in your favorite holiday foods, but try to eat smaller portions of your high-calorie food choices balanced with larger portions of healthier selections.

STAY ACTIVE. Go for regular walks with coworkers on your lunch break. Studies show that people who have workout buddies tend to stick with it. 

BE AWARE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL EATING. Are there times during the work day where you are more likely to eat because of stress? Create a strategy ahead of time to find ways to avoid the temptation to overeat or choose an unhealthy snack.

Why Workplace Wellness Matters
The annual return on investment for workplace wellness programs is $3-$6 saved for every $1 spent after about 2 to 5 years, according to the Department of Health.
Wellness programs in the workplace:

  • Achieve employee satisfaction "” a healthy, motivated employee has a significant impact on an employer's bottom line.
  • Maximize productivity "” Poor employee health is correlated with a 51 percent decrease in overall productivity.
  • Minimize absenteeism "” Each year there are 2.5 billion missed work days due to chronic diseases and co-morbid conditions.
  • Manage healthcare costs "” Obese adults spend 42 percent more on direct health care costs than adults who are of healthy weight.

Crow Wing Energized offers a Workplace Wellness tool kit for employers to help implement company wellness programs. The Workplace Wellness Goal Group also meets from 7:30-9 a.m. the first Thursday of the month. Visit for more information.

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