Charleston’s Healthy Business Challenge Makes Us All Feel Better

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An employee at a local company had no reliable transportation to the job. He bummed rides and spent a lot of money taking cabs. Once on the job he spent a lot of money eating lunch out.

Then the company brought in a financial literacy program for its employees as part of the Charleston Healthy Business Challenge. The employee began bringing his lunches and saving money until he was able to buy his own car with cash. Because he was eating on-site, he was more productive and earned a promotion. Now he is saving to buy a house.

These kinds of stories are legion at companies that have joined the Charleston Healthy Business Challenge, a collaborative program of MUSC, and the City of Charleston, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and offered for free to businesses throughout the Lowcountry.

Start with Tobacco, then Weight Loss, Nutrition and Emotional Health

The key to the initiative is an assessment tool developed by the South Carolina Hospital Association’s Working Well program that companies use to determine their strengths and weaknesses. It helped South Carolina Federal Credit Union expand its focus to the mental and financial health of its employees.

“We take care of the whole employee,” says Zoë Watkins, the HR representative. “The better we care for our employees the better we can care for our members.”

The Charleston Healthy Business Challenge, launched in 2015, starts with the fundamentals. Susan Johnson, MUSC’s director of health promotion and the driving force behind the challenge, says firms can put policies in place that promote good behavior.

“Policies don’t cost anything and are great drivers of work,” she said.

MUSC started on its own Health Business Challenge by proclaiming itself a tobacco-free campus. That has driven tobacco use by staff down 50%. Then it helped the College of Charleston and The Citadel do the same.

Johnson says this is an example of the built environment providing “nudges that help people to make healthy choices.”

South Carolina Federal has instituted a “chief challenge” in which employees are challenged to compete with CEO Scott Woods at measures of physical health, weight loss, mindfulness, nutrition, and more.

“Healthy Business challenge helps us keep track of our progress all year,” Watkins said.

Progress has been impressive. Combined, South Carolina Federal employees…

  • lost 832 pounds.
  • completed more than 240,000 “Mindful Minutes” (4,000 hours of self-care/meditation time.)
  • exercised for nearly 3,000 hours.
  • and drank more than 368,000 ounces of water.

Healthy Business is Good for the Area’s Economy

The Lowcountry Graduate Center, whose mission is to promote economic development and well-being in the tri-county area, recognizes that businesses can’t be healthy if their employees aren’t healthy – physically, emotionally, and financially. Its participation in various local health initiatives is an expression of that recognition.

The Charleston Healthy Business Challenge conducts regular seminars and provides businesses with a playbook to address their workplaces across nine dimensions of health. Lately, of course, those seminars have been conducted remotely in order to avoid another health scourge.

More than 100 companies have participated in the Healthy Business Challenge so far and it is open to any organization that commits to improve wellness across its enterprise.

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