An uncomfortable silence settles around the conference table when Turck Industries’ management team is asked what would happen to the company’s popular wellness program if CEO Dave Lagerstrom were suddenly to leave. After several minutes pass, Lagerstrom finally answers the question himself, “There’d be a mutiny if they tried to take it away.”

This response is only half in jest. Turck, located in Plymouth, MN, is a place where health and wellbeing is so fully “baked” into the organization that most employees—including manufacturing line workers, administrative staff, and sales managers—embrace the culture and consider it integral to the company’s mission. The official health promotion program, called LifeWorks @ Turck, combines a wide range of activities, opportunities and incentives designed to help employees achieve their “wellbeing goals” in five inclusive areas: Career, Social, Financial, Community and Physical. “It works because it is so multi-faceted, there is truly something for everyone,” says Jon Nieman, manager of safety and facilities.

 

Two German brothers founded Turck in Minnesota in 1975 and today the company has manufacturing facilities in Mexico and Canada, as well as affiliation with a larger concern in Germany. With some 500 employees in the U.S., the company manufactures sensors and cord sets used in the automotive and other industries. Turck USA had about $200 million in sales last year and continues to grow. In the face of this success, Lagerstrom says that his commitment to employee health and wellbeing is integral to the company’s business model; “Running the business the right way is key and this is part of running the business. Well-being is part of our core values.” A case in point; even during the recent economic downturn, virtually no wellness program was scaled back.

 

Despite Lagerstrom’s focus on wellness as a good business strategy, Robert Diem, Turck’s chief financial officer, doesn’t bother calculating a return on investment (ROI) for the LifeWorks program. (The ROI for corporate health promotion programs compares the dollars spent on programs with resulting savings on employee healthcare costs.) “Our turnover rates are very low (1-4% since 2010), medical costs are down, and employee satisfaction nears 90 percent,” says Diem. “I can make ROI reports say whatever you want them to say but it’s apparent that investing in employee wellbeing works.” More concrete signs that wellness pays off at Turck: Nearly 50% of new positions and promotions at Turck are filled internally and the company has its choice of job candidates eager to join an organization with a reputation as a great place to work. Lagerstrom agrees, “If you go into this merely to save money you are on the wrong track.”

 

The Turck commitment to wellbeing began with founders Hans and Werner Turck who viewed their workers as an extended family. Dee Comeau, a continuous improvement specialist who has worked at the company for over 25 years, remembers in the early days that the whole operation was located in a cinder block, windowless building. On hot summer days Hans or Werner would fling open the doors, set up fans and treat all the employees to ice cream. If the temperatures got really stifling, they’d be sent home early for the day. The family business ethos and commitment to employee quality of life remain strong even as the company has grown substantially and moved its headquarters to a gleaming, suburban campus. The current LifeWorks@Turck program was inspired by Lagerstrom’s own personal health scare. A year after he assumed the CEO role, Lagerstrom suffered minor stroke. “I hadn’t been to a doctor or had my blood pressure checked for 15 years. It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he says. With Lora Geiger, Director of Human Resources, leading the charge, Turck built its wellness program to more formally promote the health and wellbeing of the workforce—and tie participation to financial incentives.

 

What does a culture of wellbeing mean at Turck? It has some traditional elements found in many corporate health promotion programs, including incentives ($150 break on insurance premiums or two days of paid time off) for filling out a yearly health risk assessment and attending three lunchtime seminars. Although some 70% of employees receive incentives each year, the real gist of wellness at Turck extends beyond meeting the basic requirements for earning rewards. Employees talk enthusiastically about twice-weekly games of “Wallyball”—a spirited form of volleyball played on a racquetball court—or the free membership for all workers at the upscale gym across the street. Others describe support they got from the company to organize a 5K run at the annual company outing. Monthly “brown bag” lunch sessions that offer guidance on nutrition, stress reduction, career advancement and financial planning are popular events. At Turck, the focus on wellbeing also includes giving employees more flexibility—to leave work early to coach youth wrestling or spend time with family; it means granting a manager and her team paid time off to volunteer at a soup kitchen; and it involves giving manufacturing floor workers an opportunity to work extra hours in one shift so they can attend to personal matters during another.

 

Mick Hannafin, a benefits consultant who works closely with Turck, allows that the company has made mistakes along the way. Realizing that many employees lacked convenient access to primary care, the company opened a new on-site clinic in 2007, staffed with nurse practitioners to treat acute illness and help employees control chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. The first year there were just 900 visits to the clinic. “It was a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality that didn’t work,” says Hannafin. Lora Geiger noted she didn’t anticipate that some workers would eye the clinic with suspicion, “Why are you putting this clinic here at work? What are you trying to find out about me?”

 

Now, thanks to positive messaging about the clinic’s benefits to employees and their families, and reassurances about its commitment to privacy, the clinic has become an integral part of Turck’s wellbeing efforts. Situated near the production floor, the clinic offers acute care for common health issues, laboratory tests, counseling and many prescription drugs at no cost. With extended hours and an open-door policy for spouses and children of employees, the clinic has become a popular place for employees and their families to go for preventive and primary care as well as maintenance of chronic illness.

 

Beyond the clinic and an ever-growing assortment of programs, employees are recognized in newsletters and in team meetings for achieving wellbeing goals. They become models for others who want to lose weight, volunteer or raise money for causes close to their hearts. One manager who lost 38 pounds by taking advantage of regular workouts and wellness coaching has become a model for her whole team to make lifestyle changes. Messaging around wellness activities, healthy food choices and inspirational stories is consistent, if not “relentless,” according to employees.

 

The culture of wellbeing at Turck had its start with the founders and their view of employees as an extended family. The current health promotion efforts are sufficiently varied and inclusive to reach—and be utilized—by a majority of workers. The takeaway is “my company cares about me,” and the rewards are intrinsic. In the end, the spirit of caring and emphasis on employee health and wellbeing at Turck has helped the organization succeed and stay relevant in an increasingly competitive global market.

 

Written with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation