February 19, 2019

Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District Knows Healthy and Happy Go Hand-In-Hand

Lively competition amps up participation

Whether a water drinking challenge or scavenger hunt that promotes getting up and moving outdoors, lively competition stimulates office participation at SWCD, Resource member since 2007.

Megan Herbst, SWCD Nutrient Management Specialist and wellness coordinator, recalls a spring walking poker challenge where participants earned a playing card each time they walked 12,000 steps. “The competition motivates people,” she reports. “I heard people say, ‘What kind of hand do you have?’ or ‘I’ll trade trade you for that card.’ Incentives and setting up competitive teams really works.”

Ben Ruley, Geographic Information Systems Conservationist and wellness coordinator, agrees. He says, “We try to plan activities that have interaction involved, so that we can encourage one another. We keep it fun, and we like to keep some skin in the game.”

Besides challenges and contests, the SWCD plans lunch and learn opportunities centered on health topics, utilizes sit-stand workstations within the office, offers an annual flu clinic, CPR and AED device training, and encourages daily employee walking breaks. Much of the staff participates in the group walking breaks twice a day. Herbst reports that they typically cover a two-mile distance by the end of each workday and that the walks give employees an opportunity to exercise together and enjoy connection time outside of the office walls.

Good wellness programming is invaluable

Dennis Fuchs, administrator at the Waite Park conservation office, recalls a particular moment when he realized the value in his office’s wellness programming. SWCD provided a set of suggested health screenings to staff whereby they could earn points and receive an incentive upon completion of the screenings. One of SWCD employee’s early cancer diagnosis came out of that wellness activity. Fuchs remembers thinking, “We’ve got to continue these activities. They are so important to keeping a happy, healthy workforce.”

Wellness practices certainly have benefitted SWCD employees in pragmatic and life-saving ways, but Fuchs also knows that these kinds of activities bring a lighthearted element to his workplace. “Our wellness activities just create a fun work environment,” he says. While focusing on tangible health goals, wellness programming can also build strong staff connections and foster employee loyalty precisely because people are enjoying themselves.

Wellness programming success is a team effort. Ruley and Herbst say the success comes, in large part, from the support of Fuchs, other SWCD supervisors, and the board of directors. Fuchs says the wellness coordinators’ creativity and dedication to their tasks is another key to success.

Healthy, happy staff improve workplace stability

The benefit of a healthy, positive office atmosphere and team connection gives the SWCD improved workplace stability through good employee retention. Herbst says, “There’s not a lot of turnover. What we have is kind of rare, and people just want to stay.” Fuchs adds to that sentiment by sharing his trademark exclamation, well-known to local radio audiences who tune in for his weekly conservation program: “Our wellness programming is important here and when I see that my staff is feeling good and healthy—well, it just makes me want to MEOW!”