Focus on lower health-care costs leads to healthier workforce at Niagara Casinos (National HR Awards)

Winner: Venngo Healthy Workplaces Award
By John Dujay
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/28/2018
Niagara Casinos
Niagara Casinos put on a cooking demonstration in an effort to showcase healthy eating to its employees. Courtesy: Niagara Casinos

About seven years ago, Niagara Casinos began to catalogue its disability costs to help create a healthier workplace and to lower benefit costs.

“We took a very holistic view of some areas that had been very siloed: health and safety, disability, and comp and benefits — they were all functioning as their own units,” says Colleen Falco, director of HR services at Niagara Casinos in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“Then, we were taking a look at a lot of the results and we said, ‘If we started focusing more on prevention and wellness, we might be able to impact disability claims; maybe even impact our prescription and health-care costs.’” 

So, the company began a healthy workplace effort with a budget of less than $20,000, she says, “but by leveraging a lot of our existing vendors, whether it’s our insurer or our third-party providers, (we were) getting some ideas around what we can do differently.” 

Each year, the HR department compiles a “top-box report,” which is the top-three causes of disability, workplace incidents, prescriptions being used by volume, and prescriptions being used by cost, says Falco.

“That really informs our planning for each year on what we’re going to focus on.”

As the company undertook various programs to help employees become healthier, positive results began trickling in.

“As we started to see measurable results in terms of cost reduction, we were able to grow the budget slightly, and then a little bit more each year — to the point where we now have a full-fledged wellness program,” says Falco.

Each year, the company educates its 4,200 employees about various diseases and conditions to create a healthier workforce, she says. 

“Last year, one thing that went really well was during diabetes week in November, we offered free blood-glucose screenings for all of our associates. And, at the same time, we did a healthy snack pop-up,” said Lindsay Daw, disability services manager at Niagara Casinos. 

“We wanted to show people that there’s alternatives to the chips and chocolate bars that they’re eating (so we) offered vegetable chips and we got a lot of great feedback on that. I think it was something that people wouldn’t have tried normally.”

“Also during that time, we held a healthy cooking class. We had our executive chefs do a demonstration in our cafeteria, and participants all got to try the food that they were cooking, and (the chefs) handed out the recipes so people can make them at home themselves,” said Daw. 

Last year, the company discovered infectious diseases was one of the most expensive portions of the overall benefit costs, she says. 

“Some of the initiatives that we’ve planned for this year are focusing on (infectious diseases). We were talking about hand washing: The purpose of that is to target some of these infectious disease claims.” 

The volume of the various initiatives is widespread and ongoing, says Daw. 

“Some of the smaller initiatives that we will offer throughout the year, and we try to keep these different and fun and engaging and innovative, (include) rock climbing, we’ve done paddle boarding, we’ve offered Weight Watchers and axe throwing.”

“We had a bike-to-work day which we thought was really well-received,” says Daw. 

Constantly communicating the good health information to employees is a critical part of the program’s overall success. 

“We have wellness bubbles where we change the information quarterly depending on the topic,” she says.  “During breast cancer awareness month... we handed out self-exam shower cards that showed people how to perform an exam on themselves. And we also handed the pink ribbons and did a donation towards breast cancer.”

The company also measures the results in many ways, not just via bottom-line savings from decreased benefits premiums, says Daw.

“We do have questions on our safety and wellness programs so we can always see how we’re doing,” she says. “We have a wellness committee that has associates from various departments so they’re able to bring back feedback from their respective departments and we can put in new initiatives or change initiatives based on what they’re telling us.”

In the future, Niagara Casinos will continue to hammer home the healthy message, says Daw. 

“The one we’re looking forward to coming up in November is the wellness challenge. That will be a big one because it’s a company-wide initiative,” she says. “We’re hoping to get a lot of participation, we will be doing a lot of communication around it. But also during that time, we’re going to be holding another healthy-cooking demonstration to help people while they’re doing the challenge.” 

The healthy workplace efforts are the domain of the HR department, according to Falco. 

“The truth is we lead it; we’re the keepers of the culture and the planning and keeping it top-of-mind, and without keeping a focus on it, it would probably lose momentum. So that is certainly the role that HR is playing.”

“It’s been very well-received and adopted and supported by management throughout the organization, throughout all levels, and the employees really appreciate it,” says Falco. 

“If I were to offer any advice to HR, for a lot of HR departments, they see this as superfluous, or nice-to-do, and what I would say is when you have a happy workforce, when you have people who feel appreciated and valued, they will always work harder for you. They will always be more productive. They always help you by keeping open communication on what’s working, what isn’t working with your customers.” 

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