2013 AUDACIOUS COMPANIES

Unhealthful Habits Are Not an Option

Trek Bicycle takes employee health seriously--so seriously, in fact, that you won't get insurance contributions without undergoing mandatory wellness screenings.
Justine Winter, right, applies a decal to a bicycle frame at the Trek Bicycle Corp. in Wisconsin
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It was a "never again" moment for John Burke, president of The Trek Bicycle Corporation. Over one month in 2007 a company truck driver suffered a heart attack that ended his career; an employee’s husband had a stroke; and a warehouse manager died in his sleep at age 42. The driver was a smoker; the other two were significantly overweight. "I stood up in front of 800 or 900 people and I showed those people’s pictures," says Burke. "And I said, 'We're going to be making some changes. I care about your health. Your company cares about your health. And we're going to do something about it.'" 

Plenty of companies offer wellness programs, but few are as intensive--or intentionally heavy-handed--as the one at Trek. The business, which has more than $800 million in revenue, was founded by Burke’s father in Waterloo, Wisconsin in 1976. In 2005, it introduced in-house health risk assessments (HRAs). But only 21 percent of employees participated, "and they were members of the zero-percent body fat club," says Burke. The next year Trek dangled $100 incentives; still, just 61 percent completed the detailed questionnaires. After the three incidents, Burke decided to get tough. He made Trek’s contribution to employees’ insurance premiums dependent on their taking HRAs and undergoing biometric screenings. He also required workers to rack up "wellness points" by participating in heath coaching, physical activities, and other programs. "If we’re going to pay for your health care then you’re going to get a health risk assessment every year, and it’s not optional," says Burke. "I was ready for pushback, and I didn’t care." 

But pushback never came. Nor did employees whine about the "Twinkie Tax" in the company café, which raised prices for the least nutritious foods to subsidize a salad bar. (The 10 worst dietary offenders, including cheese sticks and jalapeño poppers, were banished.) The company also sells healthy take-out dinners that workers pick up at the end of the day and conducts how-to-shop-healthy fieldtrips to supermarkets. Those programs support spouses, who must meet the same fitness and testing requirements if they’re covered by employees’ insurance. "We know when we’re pushing wellness initiatives that if the spouse isn’t onboard it isn’t going to carry over into the home," says Marcus Gagnon, Trek’s wellness coordinator. 

Balancing penalties with perks, Trek has transformed itself into a kind of wellness wonderland, with a 4,000 square-foot fitness center, studio space offering daily classes, locker rooms, and 15 miles of biking trails. Calorie counts are posted in the café; health messages in the bathrooms. Roughly 12 percent of the Waterloo staff participates in Blueprint for Change, an orchestrated goal-driven program of physical activity and education. On any given day, about 10 employees and contractors, including a wellness coordinator, a bike trail manager, a nutritionist, assorted trainers, and in-house clinic staff are working on health at Trek’s 850-person headquarters. An additional 900-plus employees at other facilities have their own resources. 

With virtually 100 percent of employees taking the HRA, health scores are up, health costs are down, and thousands of pounds have been shed. Christopher Long, a tech site administrator, is down 80 pounds--weight he says he’d still be carrying without Blueprint for Change and the café, where he buys at least 12 meals a week. "If I didn’t have access during work hours I couldn’t exercise consistently," says Long. "And having healthy food here and to take home is great for a single guy. It’s too hard to do it on your own."

IMAGE: AP
Last updated: Apr 18, 2013

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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