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Sunday, 24 May 2015 22:00

Choosing to cheat drives long-term wellness strategy for Southwest Michigan First

Written by  Jill Hinton
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Southwest Michigan First’s holistic wellness program goes beyond just physical health to ensure employees’ well-being is being cared for at work and home. For example, the company prioritizes its employees being able to spend time with family, allowing them the flexibility to set their own schedules. Southwest Michigan First’s holistic wellness program goes beyond just physical health to ensure employees’ well-being is being cared for at work and home. For example, the company prioritizes its employees being able to spend time with family, allowing them the flexibility to set their own schedules. COURTESY PHOTO

When Southwest Michigan First looked to create a robust wellness program, the economic development agency wanted to add a level of thoughtfulness to its programming rather than focus on avoiding unhealthy behaviors or diets and eliminating sedentary lifestyles.

The Kalamazoo-based nonprofit calls its method “Choosing to Cheat,” which is based on a book by Andy Stanley, a leadership and faith-based author.

Stanley’s premise: “When we cheat, we choose to give up one thing in hopes of gaining something else of greater value.”

Executive Vice President Heather Smith Baker said that the foundation of the organization’s wellness program is based on the belief that Southwest Michigan First needs healthy people to produce really healthy results, both for the organization and for the region.

After all, the group is in the business of promoting economic health for Southwest Michigan, she said.

“We believe that healthy team members are better able to achieve the big goals that we set for ourselves,” Smith Baker said. “We approach wellness as a holistic strategy, so while we do value fitness and eating healthy, we also take into account the other areas that affect wellness like financial wellness and and relationship wellness and even spiritual wellness.”

She’s quick to point out that the “Choosing to Cheat” concept isn’t about moral cheating or financial cheating. Rather, it’s more focused on choosing what’s important to the employee, where people prioritize their health and their family over professional time.

“Choosing to cheat means that we give team members the flexibility to use their own judgment in terms of their schedules,” Smith Baker said. “If working out in the middle of the day is best for you so that you can go pick up your kids right after work at 5 o’clock, then that’s fine. We’d rather have you work out on company time than take that time away from your family.”

As an organization, Southwest Michigan First makes a point to prioritize employees’ families, she said.

“Only you can be the parents to your children. We can send somebody else to a business event for a work meeting on your behalf, but if your child has a really important event like a sporting event or a spelling bee or a performance that they’re a part of, we don’t want you to miss that on account of something that you could be substituted for at work,” Smith Baker said.

That focus on flexibility for the sake of family time may be a unique philosophy for a company, but Smith Baker said having great employees makes all the difference for Southwest Michigan First.

“There’s no checks and balances — the team here is really motivated and so effective at what we do that we just trust our team to be able to organize their own schedule and stay a little later one night if they have to take off early one afternoon. It all evens out.”

However, the road to wellness hasn’t been without its bumps. Southwest Michigan First has encountered its share of challenges in implementing a successful health and wellness program.

“We’re always innovating and not just reusing the same practices for the same events year after year,” Smith Baker said.

Although the organization does have some favorite programs and annual events, the group must continually challenge itself to “be more creative, be more innovative, to keep our team engaged around wellness,” she said.
Importantly, the wellness initiatives must be able to work within the lives of their employees. With that in mind, the company has to help employees find ways to incorporate wellness in little pockets of time, Smith Baker said.

“The team members are parents and they’re siblings and they’re spouses — and they’re engaged in community organizations, in their churches and things like that, so wellness has to be something that they can fit into their lifestyle,” she said. “That’s one of the challenges that we’re always up against and something that we’re always working to improve on and achieve.”

  • Company name: Southwest Michigan First
  • Location: Kalamazoo
  • Number employees: 24
  • Wellness participation: 100 percent
  • Best practices: The company has found great success in a program it calls “Choosing to Cheat,” which is less about making bad choices and instead encourages employees to be mindful about their priorities, including spending time with their families.
Read 1497 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 June 2015 23:29