Lee Nelson is a freelance journalist from the Chicago area. She has written for Yahoo! Homes, TravelNursing.org, MyMortgageInsider.com, and ChicagoStyle Weddings Magazine. She also writes a bi-monthly blog on Unigo.com. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Surprising Side Effects of Workplace Wellness
Brokerages that make the health of agents and staff a priority also improve the vigor of the office. These wellness program ideas work for real estate companies both large and small.
October 30, 2015
Every Friday night, more than two dozen real estate agents gather to twist, turn, and sweat at a Zumba class at the Keller Williams Memorial office in Houston. Dozens of other agents in the office participate in community walks and runs all over the city. Some of them also get involved in the office’s Biggest Loser contest or listen to nutrition and other speakers brought in by office leaders.
And in the two years since the wellness program began, Jessica McCreary has noticed some unexpected side effects amongst her colleagues. She’s seeing more agents helping one another, people sharing ideas and giving feedback, and friendships developing at work.
“The doors are open in the office. We don’t just work together; we have fun and relax together,” says McCreary, who leads the three-member Jessica McCreary Real Estate Team at the 470-agent Memorial office.
Keller Williams started a national wellness program two years ago, along with offering an opportunity for associates to purchase medical insurance. The company was named one of the Principal Financial Group’s 10 Best Companies for Employee Financial Security in October 2014 – a year after starting the wellness program and offering health insurance. The company received the award because of its tools, resources, and benefits for agents and employees to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
“Keeping healthy helps me stay positive,” McCleary says. “I’m a strong believer that a body in motion stays in motion. If you are running your own business in real estate, and you don’t feel well, then you’re not going to do well.”
Brokerage wellness programs are turning out to be just as beneficial to the health of a company as it is to the health of agents and staff — and these programs are even proving to bring in more dollars improving the bottom line.
Ann Mirabito, associate professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has coauthored reports about using workplace wellness to strengthen sales.
“Workplace wellness programs have often been viewed as a nice extra, not a strategic imperative,” she says. But according to Mirabito, there is a clear correlation between a strong business and wellness. “The return on investment can be as high as 6-to-1, with much of the savings coming from improved productivity and a stronger organizational culture.”
Members of the National Association of REALTORS® can expand on their wellness plans with Members TeleHealth, which provides 24-hour access to doctors and therapists for nonemergency medical issues. This network of U.S. Board Certified physicians can be reached via Web chat, tablet app or e-mail or over the phone. This member benefit is available through REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace.
One of Mirabito’s coauthored reports, Using Workplace Wellness to Strengthen Your Sales Organization, looks at the work habits of real estate professionals.
“They are busy people. They have demanding jobs. Many have chaotic schedules, so it’s not surprising that they may put caring for their personal well-being on the back burner,” Mirabito says. “But how can we expect agents to be at their best with clients if they do not feel their best?”
Through her research, Mirabito determined the three main reasons real estate companies should implement wellness programs for employees, associates, and leaders:
1. Greater productivity. Wellness program participants feel better and have more energy. Part of the productivity gains come from reduced absenteeism. But the bigger portion of the gains comes from reduced “presenteeism” — people are at work, but illness, pain, and stress keep them from performing at peak levels. It’s hard to be at the top of your game if you’re hurting, Mirabito says.
2. Strengthened morale. Agents and employees have more pride, more trust, and more commitment in organizations with strong wellness programs, according to Mirabito’s research. An agency with a wellness program often becomes an company of choice.
3. Lower costs for employee health care benefits. This may be less important for real estate companies whose agents are independent contractors, but for companies that do offer their workers health care insurance options, the savings could be substantial.
While big firms might be able to afford an onsite workout facility or a cafeteria with nutritious food choices, smaller firms can get the same results if they’re willing to get creative. Here are four ideas from Mirabito.
- Station a treadmill in the breakroom so busy agents can take a 10-minute stress break.
- Use a “Twinkie tax” where agents and staff chip in to subsidize more healthful offerings, such as from delivery services like NatureBox.
- Arrange for a food truck to deliver lunch with nutritious offerings.
- Sign your team up for a fun run or other physical fitness events.
For those wishing to start a weight loss challenge in their real estate office as part of a wellness program, there are companies like HealthyWage that offer a little extra motivation with financial incentives. Individual participants wager on their own weight loss in an effort to win cash prizes, or teams of five compete to lose weight together and win up to $10,000.
A 2013 study from the Ann Arbor VA Center for Clinical Management Research at the University of Michigan found corroborating evidence that group-based financial incentive weight loss programs are more effective than individual programs.
“We found that these incentives were substantially more powerful when delivered in groups, which has important implications for both policymakers and the employers who are considering offering them,” says Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren, lead author of the study, in a statement.
And just like anything in life, if you feel good, you perform better — and that means more sales and more happy agents and clients alike.