Wisconsin Athletic Club’s Chez Misko talks about the opportunities to be found in corporate wellness.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, allowing clubs the opportunity to capitalize on corporate wellness on an even greater scale. Although the ACA is fairly new, Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Athletic Club (WAC) has offered corporate wellness services for over a decade. As a result, the club’s chief operating officer, Chez Misko, is well aware of the advantages that boasting a corporate wellness program can provide.
For WAC, those advantages include increased exposure to the local community, a boost in membership and of course, additional revenue. “Corporate wellness is one of the things we’re passionate about,” said Misko. “It goes back to our mission, to make a difference in people’s lives, and we really feel we can do that [with corporate wellness] — whether it’s being a place for them to come to after work, or in some cases, at work.”
Over a decade ago, WAC somewhat fell into the corporate wellness space. “We had different people that were members of our clubs that liked what we had to offer, and they’d say, ‘We’re going to be putting a fitness center in [our company],’ and asked for our help,” recalled Misko. “And that’s how it originally started. Over the past few years, we’ve just gotten into doing more and more and as we’ve done more, people have seen the success that we’ve had. So now, other companies are seeking us out to run their [corporate wellness] programs.”
Today WAC’s corporate wellness program, WorkingWell, provides a number of services to benefit employers and employees, depending on a company’s needs. Services range from on-site fitness center management and equipment maintenance, to wellness program development, cooking demonstrations, fitness assessments and more. Currently, the club works with over 150 companies in some capacity, and manages a total of 12 off-site fitness centers for employers.
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the WorkingWell program. Jennifer Smith-Hulbert, the director of WorkingWell, explained that the program has been so successful because of its flexibility, allowing it to mold to the companies using the program. Services come a la carte so that companies need to only pick what they actually need. “We don’t have one [corporate wellness] package, per se,” she said. “It is truly designed for a company specifically. So something we’re doing for one company might be totally different for another based on demographics, shift hours, and then also what the company’s wellness goals are.”
A former healthcare insurance broker, Smith-Hulbert explained that understanding the wellness needs of an organization is key to a corporate wellness program being not only successful, but also well received. “The first thing we need to do is really understand how our wellness services actually are a benefit for not only the employees, but also for the company itself,” she said. “So we take a look at what the healthcare drivers are within their current insurance plan, or what the claims are. The whole point of our WorkingWell program is to prevent the risks from becoming a claim.”
During the beginning of a corporate partnership, WAC evaluates a number of key factors, including whether or not a company does health assessments on their own or if they offer on-site health information prior to WAC’s involvement. Then, a detailed and tailored corporate wellness program is provided.
According to Misko, corporate wellness partnerships have become easier to make, not only because of the ACA, but also because of employers’ changing attitudes on employee wellness. “There are economic benefits to [employee wellness] such as a reduction in absenteeism or improved productivity,” he said. “I think people are recognizing that’s actually true — if people are exercising and you have a healthier workforce, you do get an economic return.”
Smith-Hulbert agreed, stating that the employees (not just the employers) are embracing the concept of preventative health as well. “Wellness isn’t really a buzzword anymore,” she said. “Employees are starting to understand that wellness needs to be a part of their daily lives, so they’re welcoming a lot of these things employers are putting on-site for them.”
It seems that Kohl’s would agree with this assessment. In June 2014, WAC partnered with the retailer to open and manage the Kohl’s Wellness Center within Kohl’s newest corporate office. Located on the second floor, the 14,000-square-foot facility costs Kohl’s employees $25 per month— though if they use the facility at least eight times per month, it’s free.
“[Kohl’s] was really on board from the get-go,” said Misko. “As a business, Kohl’s has a strong focus on active and wellness, and creating this best-in-class fitness facility within the Wellness Center is a great illustration of their commitment. They’ve also done a great job encouraging associates to use the facility by waiving the monthly fee when associates use the facility eight times per month and fostering a flexible culture so associates can use the fitness center during the workday.”
Smith-Hulbert explained WAC doesn’t stop at managing Kohl’s gym. “We work in conjunction with their benefits team, with their on-site clinic provider, as well as their pharmacy benefits manager to [ask], how do we offer programs altogether to really drive down Kohl’s healthcare costs? And, how do we create the kinds of benefits that help Kohl’s reach the overall mission to attract and retain the best talent and be a true employer of choice in Wisconsin?”
According to Smith-Hulbert, WAC’s mission is to become a true partner with the companies it works with. In order to do so, the club uses measurable data and objective results to showcase the benefits of a corporate wellness program within a given company.
“So if we run an eight-week weight loss challenge, what are the results of the program? How many people participated? What is the percentage of people who actually met their goal? Were we successful? I never want to be at a conference table across from the vice president of HR and for them to say, ‘We spent X number of dollars with you, and we don’t even know where those dollars went.’ I want them to go, ‘You’re worth every penny.’”
Another partnership that has been beneficial to WAC’s corporate wellness initiatives is its relationship with Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, a healthcare system that encompasses hospitals, a health insurance marketplace and more. The two companies have worked together in some capacity since 1999. However, in 2013, the two entities took the relationship a step further by co-opening a state-of-the-art fitness and sports medicine facility in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.
“The partnership with Froedtert Healthcare has been great,” said Misko. “Froedtert has a great reputation in the Milwaukee area, so partnering with them has really given us a boost to our reputation. It makes us a little more reputable, in that we’re not just somebody that knows a little about fitness … it kind of completes the package of what we have to offer because of that relationship.”
Misko explained that with Froedtert’s help, WAC has been able to offer even more corporate wellness offerings, such as physicals, which would have been more difficult to do before. That, and the WorkingWell program’s flexibility, have further solidified the club’s position as a corporate wellness powerhouse.
“Truthfully, it’s understanding the company you’re working with, how their benefits are laid out, in order to really create programming that hits home, not only to the employer and their healthcare dollars, but also to the employee and their wellness needs,” said Smith-Hulbert.
By Rachel Zabonick