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A Very Special Reunion Tee

Captain Michael Lee from the U.S. Army was trying to locate a company to produce a small order of T-shirts for the unit’s first-ever reunion. “When someone comes to us and requests a custom T-shirt, we seldom wonder about the story behind the shirt or the weight of the memory it reflects,” says Jamie Barrus, a co-owner of a promotional products firm.

But when Barrus came across Lee’s request for shirts for a military unit that served in Afghanistan, she became intrigued. Barrus asked some questions as to the backstory of the T-shirt, and decided she had to help.

As Captain Lee tells it, he was called back to active duty in 2006, reporting to Fort Bragg, where the Army quickly assembled a team of other recalled Army troops to serve an assignment in Afghanistan. “There was a lot of drama at the time, since many folks did not want to be there,” Lee remembers. “At the first muster formation, they did a roll call of everyone who had orders to report for mobilization, and less than half of the people showed up.”

After training, the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) was assigned to Farrah in West Afghanistan. The PRT’s main mission was to man a one-gun truck to assess nearby villages and schools and act as a liaison between local police. Because there was a severe manpower shortage at the time, Lee says, the Army had to borrow personnel from other branches of the military. “Our base was like a fort in the old Wild West,” Lee says of the small contingent of soldiers. As a result of their work together in such an isolated area, the crew bonded tightly.

Toward the end of deployment, Lee and his fellow troops were transported to an airfield in Afghanistan, where they received a team T-shirt for their efforts. The tees however proved to be a bit disappointing. “Unfortunately, the selection of designs was very limited,” Lee says.

For the unit’s reunion, he says, “we wanted to have an updated shirt that better reflects and improves heraldry.” The new shirts that Barrus’ company produced featured a bold logo that included a steely skull with swords and a rugged bandanna, along with the tagline “secure the victory.”

Finally, Captain Lee and his troops got the shirt that they really wanted for their reunion. “We were so happy to help,” says Barrus. “Sometimes a T-shirt is just a T-shirt. Other times, you realize it helps preserve a memory for the rest of people’s lives. That’s pretty neat.”

Africa Brings the Bling

Orchestrating a sales incentive program for more than 45 offices around the world is no easy task. “We’re in 22 countries, so whenever you’re trying to come up with an incentive item, you’re thinking to yourself, ‘OK, this will work here in the United States, but how will it play in Africa?’” says Crystal Oakes, director of branding for Trévo, a nutritional supplement company that has 200,000 sales reps worldwide.

Not only are cultural tastes and preferences different in each country, Oakes says, but many of the company’s reps work out of their homes, so logoed items like desk accessories aren’t always appropriate.

Oakes often works with a distributor to come up with unique logoed apparel items to add to Trévo’s sales incentive program and the many incentive trips it offers throughout the world. Until recently, Oakes says, the company stuck to the tried-and-true apparel basics, like black polo shirts with embroidered logos. “We decided we needed to do something different to shake things up a little,” Oakes says.

Oakes and her distributor partner teamed up and created T-shirts screen printed with the company’s brand message in metallic ink on both the front and back. The company offered the shirts to reps who paid in full for their orders by a certain date. “In many countries, our reps have to stand in line for hours and pay cash in advance for their products, so it’s important to offer an attractive incentive,” Oakes says.

Luckily, reps found the incentive very attractive. Oakes says Trévo saw a large spike in orders as a result of the incentive. But the best part? “Our sales force was so funked up about the shirts, particularly our reps in Africa. I’ve never seen any like it before,” Oakes says. Just a day or two after the company started giving out the shirts, Oakes says, reps all over the country were sending pictures of themselves wearing it, and posting photos on social media as well.

In addition, the company recently hosted an incentive trip in Turks & Caicos for 30 sales reps throughout the world, and most of the recipients came off the plane wearing their new metallic shirts. “That’s when I knew this was the best promotion we’d ever done,” Oakes says. “Not only did we get lots of our salespeople super excited, but now they’re getting our name out there wherever they go. That’s pretty exciting.”

Eat Your Greens

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of where their food comes from, whether they eat it at the dinner table or on a picnic blanket. To set their minds at ease, many people decide to join food cooperatives, which sell fresh food that’s locally made or grown.

Recently, one co-op wanted to spread the word in their community about healthy eating and the importance of supporting the local economy. They teamed up with a neighboring company that had recently implemented an employee health and wellness program, and distributed imprinted foodware to encourage the employees to bring healthy foods for their day-time meals. The co-op is located down the street from the company, and they encouraged their employees to shop at the co-op for fresh food before and after work.

One of the items employees received was the Salad/Snack Bowl Set which was decorated with the co-op’s logo. More than 275 bowls were distributed, and other decorated items were also given out as part of the campaign. The co-op’s distributor partner was able to tie the promotion to a specific health initiative, based on Affordable Care Act guidelines. 

3 Tips For A Healthier Workplace

Johnson & Johnson has one. So does Chick Fil-A. Indeed, practically every company in America has an employee wellness program in place, but how many actually measure the program’s effectiveness? Fewer than one quarter, according to a recent study by Buck Consultants. According to the study, 77% of employers in the U.S. offer at least one program to keep employees healthy (think free gym memberships and incentives to stop smoking), but only 23% actually measure the outcomes of those programs.

That’s a mistake, say health-care consultants. “By knowing what types of programs work best, you’ll be able to see how to move the needle in terms of health-care premiums and other benefits of corporate wellness, like reduced absenteeism and increased productivity,” says David Atkinson, vice president of corporate wellness for Cooper Corporate Solutions, a firm which helps companies design programs to keep employees healthy. Make no mistake: There are real benefits to be had by setting up an employee wellness program, and appropriately rewarding employees for their participation. Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of yours, and rewarding employees appropriately for participating.

Tip 1: Design a Program
Companies that are looking to wellness programs to reduce insurance premiums and absenteeism need to design programs that can be more specifically tied to those goals, Atkinson says.

As an example, when Redstone Presbyterian Care, a health-care facility with more than 400 employees, was hit with a 44% increase in health-insurance premiums, it realized it needed to do something – fast. “We weren’t paying attention to what was going on around us,” says Jim Hodge, vice president of human resources. Specifically, employee obesity, tobacco use, high blood pressure and other health risks were causing the company’s premiums to skyrocket.

Redstone initially responded with a variety of free fitness activities, like yoga and kickboxing classes, that employees could participate in. “We even offered ballroom dancing,” Hodge says. 

Employees received points for completing every activity, and those points were redeemable for cash or merchandise, like fitness equipment. “What we learned was that people didn’t necessarily equate the fact that they were doing these programs for wellness,” Hodge says. 

So Redstone adjusted its program; now, instead of simply participating in exercise classes, they also have to overcome several hurdles in order to participate in the company’s insurance program. Now, employees who want to be insured by Redstone must undergo a health-risk assessment, biometric screening and meet with a wellness coach three times annually. The result? “More of our employees are really paying attention to their wellness,” Hodge says. “Three employees have given up tobacco this year, and countless others have lost weight.” 

The upshot? The company has saved more than $440,000 in insurance premiums, and has managed to hold annual insurance-premium increases to single digits. “We found that really educating people about their health works much better than simply throwing a bunch of programs at them,” Hodge adds.

Tip 2: Offer Incentives
Most employees won’t be eager to stop smoking or lose weight without a little nudge, say wellness experts. Indeed, 56% of companies in the U.S. offer incentives like gifts, merchandise, or reduced insurance costs, for participating in wellness programs. How to find the right incentives for your group?

That depends on how big of a change you’re asking employees to make, says Rich Allen, vice president of group benefits and risk analysis for Cooper Corporate Solutions. “If you’re looking at wellness as a fun thing for employees to do, small incentives such as logoed pedometers, yoga mats, T-shirts and athletic gear will do the trick,” Allen says. “If your objective is to change costs and risk factors for employees, you have to be much more aggressive in the incentives you offer.” 

For example, companies covered by Cigna’s health plan can opt into a program that pays out bigger rewards, such as jewelry and electronics, for completing a series of health screenings or participating in a program to control their diabetes. Other companies reward employees for major lifestyle changes, such as a sustained drop in blood pressure, by reducing the amount they have to contribute to their health-care premiums. In a program Cooper created for NEI, a server company, employees who showed progress in health screenings would pay a discount on their health-care contributions. After participating in the program for four years, NEI had “almost completely eradicated high-risk blood pressure among its employees, and had a 50% reduction in employees with high-risk cholesterol,” Allen says. “That’s a pretty impressive result.”

Tip 3: Measure Results
Companies creating wellness programs to improve the work environment should be able to measure results by simply surveying the population. “Are employees having fun? Do they like what’s happening? Then good, you’re on the right track,” says Smytha Haley, a wellness consultant.

Those who want to track the effectiveness of the program on the bottom line should be prepared to wait about 18 months for a result, Haley says. For many firms, 18 months is the point at which workers’ bettering health begins to cancel out the cost of sponsoring and administering the corporate wellness program.

As a rule of thumb, the average cost to a business is about $3 to $5 per participating staff member per month. “Within three years of the launch you ought to be seeing meaningful savings,” Haley says.
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