How Campus Apartment’s Wellness Initiative Benefits Employees, Residents and the Company

MHN speaks with Helen Marshall, vice president of human resources, Campus Apartments, about their new health initiative and how it has benefited its employers, residents and company as a whole.

Philadelphia—Campus Apartments, a student housing company, partnered with Beachbody, a fitness and nutrition company that includes the P90X and Shakeology brands, among others, to create a health and wellness initiative for its employees. In Phase II of the program, Campus Apartments is also getting its residents involved in the fitness challenges. MHN speaks with Helen Marshall, vice president of human resources, Campus Apartments, about this health initiative and how it has benefited its employers, residents and company as a whole.

MHN: Describe the Beachbody health initiative.

Marshall: The original Beachbody Challenge we had running beginning earlier this year was an employees only incentive at the time. We started with an in-house wellness and fitness initiative. And one of the challenges we had was increasing momentum and excitement over a multi-locational company. We wanted to do something a little bit innovative and unique to promote activity, as opposed to someone just going to the gym on their own or walking, just to see whether or not we could increase some excitement about wellness and well being overall. We put a tentative toe in the water at the beginning of the year as the first stage of our internal Beachbody Challenge. Over the summer we brought it back in house. We had a little bit of success at the remote properties where they had the workouts and they had a coach attend events for employees, but we figured perhaps as we move forward we could go on a bigger scale and actually have something that was unique to the company. It was a partnership with Beachbody, but we also wanted to roll out a national program. From there we began to see if we could focus on the national challenge itself, but use it to be able to create a community within a community.

Obviously we’re student housing and the population is young adults out there making their own decisions on diet and health and exercise, so we wanted to see if we could combine that with our own employee wellness program to make it more of a community-based challenge.

MHN: What is the Challenge? What do people have to do—do they have to lose a certain amount of weight, like a “Biggest Loser” competition?

Marshall: We’re actually not focused purely on weight loss—being conscious of the fact that wellness may not necessarily be weight-loss driven. If somebody is already at the appropriate weight for their physique, it’s more towards well being, healthy eating and exercise. And exercise could be for weight loss, but it could be for stress relief, for toning, or purely because it’s good for you and a good thing to do. The way that we targeted this is that everybody on the employee side could set out their goals. So it could be, “I want to lose X number of pounds.” It could be, “I’m where I want to be from a weight loss perspective, but I really want to create some definition overall because it’s good from a well-being perspective.” In other instances the goal might be driven towards a cholesterol issue or a blood issue. The goals for our employee base are certainly very much individual goals.

We run this as a 12-week challenge, where each week on the employee side they’re going to report their results to their regional representative, and at the end of the challenge the points are totaled—you gain points based on where you are from your goal, where you were at the beginning vs. where you are today, creativity in terms of “tell your story,” and in some situations we awarded points on how creative you were outside the gym, conscious of the fact that perhaps some people are not necessarily driven to go to a gymnasium. From the challenge in terms of Beachbody, they’re combining our goals from the employees, but where they’re incentivizing the residents to come on board is really “why don’t you work out at your property, why don’t you join this program, fitness is good for everybody, be a part of a community, and if you enroll in this challenge you can help your property and you can help your teams at the property level.” The nice thing in terms of combining this with a structured organization such as Beachbody is that they also drive a point challenge themselves.

For our own employees, the company is rewarding at the employee level—for reaching a goal—with gift cards or a yoga mat, or something that is related to whatever regime they’re doing. As a company for the particular round of the challenge, at the end of the 12 weeks, whoever is closest to their goals can be awarded up to $1,000 in prize money. Our challenge ends around Thanksgiving, so by the time we do the review of points and where everybody is, that’s a nice reward for someone to give themselves a little pat on the back just before the holiday period.

MHN: Nice to finish their challenge before all the food from the holidays comes into play!

Marshall: Yes, and maybe it’ll help them keep on track as well! We took time over the summer, which is a very busy time for us, and we used that time to rebound with the program a little bit and launch for the fall, deliberately focused on getting them motivated. And then if we had employees or residents interested in becoming coaches, the online coaches and the individual coaches in the locations, we could work with them towards the steps of becoming a coach, so that the properties could all have their in-house coach. That’s the goal we’re working on, so we could actually continue this.

MHN: How does this challenge benefit you as a company?

Marshall: For several reasons. We’re just short of 1,000 employees in 23, soon to be 24 states. So rolling out a program like this could be difficult because you have different time zones, and it could be difficult to create morale when you’re not face-to-face with a lot of individuals. From the perspective of “how could we roll it out initially,” the first round we actually used the motivational challenge and we created a group through LinkedIn. As a result of that, we looked what we gained in the first quarter, and the feedback that we were getting was, “I never realized that wellness could be so fun.” Everybody was brought in in terms of morale.

In terms of wellness and health, I think you’ve got a two-pronged approach to why it’s important to us: You have morale, motivation and camaraderie built through the wellness initiative. From the purely business, operational, NOI perspective, increased activity can help reduce premium costs on insurance, because generally speaking, if your employees are fit and healthier, it equates to fewer days off for sickness, fewer visits to doctors and hopefully a reduced medication cost. In fact, we have a couple of real-life stories where we had individuals that were identified as being significantly at risk for a heart attack or diabetes, and as a result of the program they actually stated, “this has been really motivational for me, it made me accountable to somebody, and as a result, not only have I become more active, I’ve lost weight, but I’ve also reduced my medication.” Those factors play very strongly into the impact of insurance, insurance renewal and insurance premium, and as a result, in our ability as a company to be able to be creative and continue with plans and programs for the employees, where the goal is to have enriched plans and enriched benefits. If premiums are running away because the utilization is out of control, it limits what you can do from an employer perspective.

A few years ago, we saw premium increases on our insurance plan at renewal time at 63 percent. That’s indicative of high utilization, possible conditions that were not being controlled that possibly could have been. In this last round of open enrollment and renewal, we had a zero percent increase.

MHN: It’s interesting that you started this program using social media.

Marshall: It’s an amazing forum [that lets us] pull people together across multiple locations and multiple states and multiple time zones. It’s great to see that camaraderie between your teams in locations that invariably don’t meet each other, and in most cases don’t know each other’s names. Suddenly they’re engaged because they’re in a challenge. People are talking about weight, they can be sensitive about it; but obviously the employees are aware that this is not a private forum. The whole world could be hearing it. What’s great particularly in watching the activity on Facebook is that you see people do this on the weekends as well. You could see them working out, they’re posting the picture, and you can see the engagement.

MHN: You mentioned that people know it’s not just their coworkers who read their updates, which is great for adults. What about with the residents, who are mostly young adults? Have you ever had the need to moderate or are the residents generally supportive of each other?

Marshall: They’ve been somewhat supportive. They’re generally respectful and conscious of the fact that it is a wellness program, so regardless of what they’re posting on their personal Facebook pages, they’ve been extremely appropriate in the context of what we’re doing. I think the nice thing is that maybe the population that’s more inclined to be focused on this and be excited by the wellness and the activity portion are very conscious of, “how can I get into the program, how can I get the points.” So they’re more engaged in what’s truly going on, rather than putting something out there that shouldn’t be there.