Local companies ranked among healthiest in the nation

Wellness

The Starr Group has woven a multitude of health and wellness activities, including basketball, yoga and hula hooping, into its company culture.

Healthy employees make a healthy bottom line. That’s the philosophy adopted by a handful of companies in southeastern Wisconsin that have found their way onto lists ranking the healthiest workplaces in the country this year.

Over the past 15 years, health care costs have skyrocketed, which means employers, who still typically shoulder the majority of employee health premiums, have been feeling the pinch.

The Starr Group has woven a multitude of health and wellness activities, including basketball, yoga and hula hooping, into its company culture.
The Starr Group has woven a multitude of health and wellness activities, including basketball, yoga and hula hooping, into its company culture.

Since the Milliman Medical Index began tracking annual health costs in 2001, the estimated total cost of health care for the average family of four covered by a typical employee-sponsored health plan has more than tripled, increasing from $8,414 in 2001 to a whopping $25,826 this year.

As a way to reduce health care costs, some company leaders have been implementing aggressive employee wellness programs that encourage healthy eating and exercise habits, and also offer screening for certain preventable health complications and diseases. The idea is to catch illnesses or unhealthy habits early, before they cause expensive and potentially deadly problems later on.

Tim and Mary Starr, owners of Starr Insurance Group Ltd., an insurance agency based out of Greenfield, are familiar with the concept of limiting risk.

Since the pair became sole owners of The Starr Group in 2008, they’ve decided to put a heavy emphasis on employee health – not just because they thought it would help their bottom line, but also because they felt it was simply the right thing to do.

Their efforts are paying off. This year, the company ranked No. 10 in the country on Healthiest Employer LLC’s annual “Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America” list.

“When we started, we didn’t have any idea what we were doing,” Mary Starr said. “We kind of took a serious look at our culture and at the time, we realized it was an unhealthy culture in many ways. We were recognizing people for doing a good job by bringing in donuts. There were candy drawers, soda cans popping at 8 a.m. It was really us taking an honest look at it and realizing there were unhealthy parts of our culture we wanted to change.”

The Starr Group joined the Wellness Council of Wisconsin, and based its employee wellness program on the Wellness Council’s “7 Benchmarks” of a successful health initiative, which include advice about capturing senior-level support for health initiatives, collecting health data and creating a healthy company environment.

In the years since, the company began collecting health data from employees annually, while also screening them for certain health conditions and diseases. It offers monthly massages to employees, holds between 16 and 20 luncheon lectures on health-related topics each year and offers healthy food options to employees – weekly salad lunches and monthly smoothie days. Starr Group also has initiatives to help employees cope with stress: walking meetings and meditation sessions to recordings of nature sounds.

In addition, the company put together a “Fun Committee,” which is in charge of injecting fun into the work day.

“We believe that happy employees are more passionate and more productive,” Mary Starr said. “That’s an integral part of our wellness program. Our goal was to meet people where they’re at and help them move forward.

The Starr Group encourages exercise at work.
The Starr Group encourages exercise at work.

“As a company owner, there’s no question as to the value of making wellness an integral part of our organization,” she said. “Retention, recruitment, overall productivity – we measure that as well. We’re part of a group of high-performing insurance agencies. Our employee productivity numbers are routinely 20 percent above other high-performing agencies.”

Over the past five years, 100 percent of the company’s employees have participated in its wellness program.

H.O. Bostrom Co. Inc., a manufacturing company based in Waukesha with 90 employees that designs and makes seating and seating accessories for a variety of industries in 65 countries, found its way onto the Healthiest Companies in America list put together this year by Interactive Health, a wellness solutions company.

H.O. Bostrom spokesperson Susan Paprcka said the company made it on the list because of its screening program – something that was implemented several years ago as a way to give a discount on insurance premiums to non-smoker employees.

“In order to prove that you’re not a smoker, you have to go through this health evaluation,” Paprcka said. “But it’s also a nice way for people to find out their current health. They do a blood draw, they do a full gamut of cholesterol and diabetes screening. That was kind of the baseline for the award that was given, because we have some pretty healthy employees.”

The benefits of the screening program have been twofold for H.O. Bostrom, she said. No. 1, it keeps health premiums low. No. 2, with only 90 employees and 265 customers located on six continents, it’s extremely important to keep everyone as healthy and productive as possible, she said.

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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