If there’s one thing Jayme Mayo has learned in nearly 11 years as wellness director at Nabholz Corporation, it’s that relationships matter.

Nabholz, a Conway, Arkansas-based commercial construction company has built relationships with its employees and the community to encourage overall health and wellness. Not only good for the company’s bottom line, this approach has actually led to some major health-improvement results and garnered attention from companies and government agencies across the country. The program was even featured in a 2012 HBO documentary titled “The Weight of the Nation.”

“Our wellness program is unique because we are involved in people’s lives,” Mayo explains. “We celebrate with them; we mourn with them; we know them. And because we know them, we know what their needs are and have a better idea how to meet them.”

Wellness goals, defined

The Nabholz Wellness Program is outcomes-based. The company conducts health screenings twice a year and pays 100 per cent of employee and spouse monthly health insurance premiums if they get screened at least once a year.

Employees and their spouses who show improvements in areas of obesity, cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, and tobacco use can earn incentives of hundreds of dollars each year provided in the form of a Wal-Mart gift card.

The company also has an on-site clinic at its Conway headquarters. Along with Mayo, who is a certified physician assistant, the wellness team consists of a full-time physician, medical assistant, personal trainer, and bilingual dietician.

Nabholz, which was founded in 1949, has about 1,100 employees across several states. Since the wellness program began in 2007, high blood pressure among employees has decreased from 40 per cent to 15 per cent, and high cholesterol has decreased from 46 per cent to 16 per cent. Tobacco use has decreased from 49 per cent to 30 per cent.

Most common employee health issues

While cardiovascular health remains the most common health issue among employees, Mayo says mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent. Recently, she and her team have taken a mental health first-aid class to help them recognize problems better and guide employees to needed resources.

“Our wellness program really has shifted a little bit to meet the needs of our people where they are now, and what I’m finding is they’re having some mental health issues,” she says. “Because they know us, they have that relationship with us, they’re more willing to share those problems with us.”

The success of Nabholz’s wellness program demonstrates that a healthy employee is a productive employee, a fact that has benefited the company financially. Mayo says the company has saved more than $1 million per year in health insurance premiums, and over the past eight years has only seen a 13 per cent increase in premiums, including a 3 per cent increase for 2018.

Don’t react, prevent

According to Mayo, prevention, rather than a reaction to a safety issue or insurance premium hike, should be the focus of a wellness program. Too often, companies also may contract out the wellness reporting or use a portal for self-reporting. She says these programs aren’t usually as effective because they don’t factor in relationships.

Every wellness program needs a cheerleader, she says. To start, Mayo urges companies to look internally and then build relationships in the community and beyond.

While cardiovascular health remains the most common health issue among employees, Mayo says mental health issues are becoming increasingly prevalent.

“Look at the resources that you have in your company,” she suggests. “Maybe someone is a yoga instructor who can come in and do a yoga class. Does someone have a spouse that’s a police officer who could do a self-defense class? Is there a firefighter who could do a CPR first aid class?”

Developing partnerships with local hospitals and health-related businesses, like running stores and cooperative extensions, can enhance the program. Other valuable partnerships include local chapters of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and other groups.

The upshot: better productivity

A robust wellness program boosts productivity and decreases absenteeism. Mayo says it has helped with employee retention at Nabholz, which has about an 8 per cent turnover rate. And, the vast health and wellness resources have also helped the company with recruitment.

“We are in a talent war, and we need skilled individuals,” she explains. “Recruiting is probably one of the biggest benefits that we’ve seen because if it’s between us and the construction company across the street, this sets us apart.”