Children color pictures of healthy food at the Chumash Enterprises picnic.

Children color pictures of healthy food at the Chumash Enterprises wellness picnic.

Promoting the culture of health and wellness at the Chumash Casino during the pilot of Project ACT proved an interesting challenge, because there are so many shifts and so many different divisions. Communication is tough because of the 24/7 environment. The organization had some wellness programs in place already. According to Nickinson, “They understand the value of employee health, and they’re making steady progress, improving options in the employee dining room, offering regular vital sign screenings from their full time Emergency Medical Staff, etc.” At the annual company picnic, the wellness team set up a coloring station for kids, with hopscotch squares leading to the station, where everyone colored in healthy fruits and vegetables. Instead of taking the pictures home, kids wrote their parents names on them. About a month later, the parents received the picture of healthy food colored by their kids, reinforcing what the kids learned about healthy eating.

Nickinson sees the Project ACT website as a hub for sharing useful and encouraging information. “There’s stuff on there about how to do a yoga class at work, how to make spa water, how to create a movement challenge etc. It’s not precisely turnkey, because it works best when workplace wellness is a grassroots movement, but we’re refining and presenting tools to make it easier for workplaces to choose and ACT.”

“Here the emphasis was on activity, perhaps because that’s a passion of mine. In another organization someone might focus on stress reduction or healthy food choices.”

Margaret Ontiveros, Santa Maria-Bonita School District

Nickinson’s goal of institutional cultural change faces obstacles. “Everyone comes back to the return-on-investment question, but how do we answer? What is it worth to you if one coworker does not have a heart attack? How many hours of productivity are lost to symptoms of diabetes or other preventable diseases? What is it worth if otherwise disgruntled workers feel more connected to the organization, or if someone is out less with lower back pain because he or she did some simple stretching techniques at work? None of the Project ACT recommendations so far cost very much money, but it is still hard to answer these questions to the satisfaction of most organizations.”

Fortunately, innovators in both the public and private sector appreciate the potentially significant return-on-investment for workplace wellness programs, which can be very inexpensive to execute. $22 Billion is the estimated annual medical and lost productivity cost of preventable chronic disease in California. Considering that over 80% of heart disease and nearly 90% of diabetes cases are attributable to lifestyle choices – specifically unhealthy diet, inactivity, and smoking – workplace wellness programs represent a win-win-win-win for employers, employees, families, and communities.

A Zumba class in Santa Maria.

Wellness in Motion: A Zumba class in Santa Maria.

How can YOU get started with a workplace wellness program?

Nickinson’s experience with Project ACT suggests that a team of grassroots champions are most effective at launching a program. His “how to get started” list includes:

  • Form a team
  • Identify 2-3 initial activities
  • Promote with enthusiasm
  • Have a Challenge
  • Take Suggestions – and act on them
  • Utilize
    • Choose your own ACT
      • Post it in your workspace
      • Submit online at
    • Hold a “moving meeting”

For more information, ideas, and inspiration, please visit the Project ACT website.

“ACT has allowed us to interact with employees more about health and wellness. It has been a great springboard to get people to activate.”

Reginald Vaughn, Santa Barbara County EMS Agency

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