A good way to lose an employee

Photo: The employees of the Sugar Grove Park District have decided to get in shape and lose weight. They have exercise equipment in the garage of the Park District office, and they have an herb garden to flavor their water. After about a year, their combined weight loss is over 180 pounds. John Clayton (left to right), Karen Pritchard, Kathi Malloy, Director Greg Repede, Allison Ayello and Suzanne Serrurier. Photo by John DiDonna

by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—What began as a response to a wellness incentive through the Sugar Grove Park District’s insurance plan ended up changing the lives of several of its employees.

“I’ve been trying to lose weight my whole life, and I knew it would be easier for me to do it with the support of people around me,” Suzanne Serrurier said. “I thought, it’s now or never.”

Based on the fact that healthier employees mean fewer health care claims and sick days, the Park District Risk Management Association (PDRMA) insurance plan created an incentive program to reward employees who either improved or maintained the status quo on baseline scores for blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other health-related measurements.

Serrurier volunteered to take on the role of Wellness Ambassador for her district, which involved encouraging others she worked with to participate in the program and attending wellness meetings through the carrier.

When the insurance representative came to the Park District office in April 2010 to conduct the baseline measurements, Serrurier was carrying around an additional 140 pounds. Although her husband played on a volleyball team that required a lot of air travel, she never went with him, because she worried that the seat belt on the plane wouldn’t fit her. She had trouble with her knees when she walked up and down the stairs, and took seven different kinds of medications for her high blood pressure.

Serrurier was an effective recruiter, and eventually all six full-time employees participated in the program. Before long, a group of employees who had been in the habit of going out to lunch together three times a week (typically to fast food restaurants) began sharing healthy recipes and other weight loss tips, encouraging each other to exercise, and making runs to the local grocery store for fruit.

Serrurier donated her seldom-used elliptical stepper to the Park District, where it currently gets a daily workout. John Clayton planted an herb garden on the Park District grounds, from which employees pick fresh herbs to flavor the water they drink every day, instead of pop. When the employees open the office refrigerator these days, they are likely to find strawberries or bananas, yogurt, lettuce, and herbs.

Rarely do they go out to eat anymore.

Together, they have lost the weight of a full-time employee, or 205 pounds, Karen Pritchard said.

“We told the (Park District) Board we lost a really good employee, but we don’t ever want her back,” Pritchard said with a laugh.

Pritchard, in addition to the support she receives at work, has enlisted her five sisters in her weight loss journey. Utilizing Weight Watchers coupled with additional exercise, she has lost 40 pounds.

Pritchard said when she turned 50 years old last year, she looked around at her family history. Although she said she has been blessed with good health, she had older relatives with high blood pressure and diabetes.

“I saw my future,” she said. “I knew I had to make a change.”

Emphasizing how difficult it has been to change old habits, she explained that she has learned to be more forgiving of herself if she slips up now and then.

She said she feels so much better now, receives compliments about her looks, has more energy, and enjoys exercising again.

“I’m not going to have six-pack abs, and I’m not going to be 20 again,” she said. “My goal is just to be healthy.”

Serrurier has lost 80 of the 140 pounds she wants to shed, she is down to two blood pressure medications from the seven she was taking, no longer has knee problems, and is active and happy. Her husband tells her how good she looks, and she said she is now beginning to believe him. Not long ago, she took a trip on an airplane to watch him play.

“I feel wonderful,” she said. “I don’t know what took me so long.”

Kathi Malloy, the mother of a 3- and 7-year-old, said that although her physical baseline measurements were fine, her motivation and level of activity were low. She would come home from work and instead of spending time with her children, she would feed them and send them out to play.

“I couldn’t keep up with them,” she said.

What finally convinced her that she had to do something was the day her 7-year-old daughter beat her in a race.

“Mommy, you let me win,” her daughter told her, but inside, Malloy knew that wasn’t true.

“It made me embarrassed,” she said. “That’s when I realized, ‘this has got to change.’”

The biggest modification she made was in not going out to lunch all the time. Although she lost 15 pounds, what she is most happy about is the increase in her energy level.

“I’m not sleepy at two or three in the afternoon,” she said.

After work, instead of sending her children out to play, together they have been trying out new parks in the area. Recently, they visited two in one day.

“It’s fun being a mom again,” she said.

Clayton, competitive by nature, said that when he heard how much weight Pritchard had lost, that did it for him.

“I’m not one to be outdone,” he said. “Karen was my inspiration.”

Having studied health and nutrition in college, he came up with his own plan. His diet and healthy habits have had a ripple effect on his family, with his wife and two boys joining in.

“It’s kind of contagious,” he said. “Now my mom has asked for it. And I’m a good example to my kids. That’s important to me.”