Kitsap companies get creative to keep employees healthy

By Tad Sooter and David Nelson

Posted: Sept. 07, 2016     

“We spend so much time at work,” Yolanda Fong with Kitsap Public Health District said. “So how can we support workplaces to make it a healthy environment?”

Kitsap employers have found many ways of answering that question, from hosting elaborate exercise challenges to simply swapping donuts for bananas at meetings. The initiatives are aimed at keeping employees happy, healthy and productive, but are also a savvy tool for recruiting and retaining talent.


When Fong discusses workplace health with employers, she advocates for policies in four broad categories.

To promote physical health, Fong said employers can try holding meetings while walking, offer paid breaks for physical activity, kick in on gym memberships or host classes in office. For healthier eating, they can squeeze lower-sugar snacks and drinks into vending machines, and substitute (or at least supplement) the typical plate of sweets at morning meetings with fruits and vegetables.

“So every time you go to a meeting there’s not just donuts,” Fong said.

A clear tobacco policy is also important. Fong said some companies go as far as not hiring employees who smoke, while others simply don’t allow smoking on their campuses, or offer incentives for not using tobacco. And these days smoking policies have to be broadened to address vaping and even marijuana, she noted.

Fong said many employers are taking steps to make offices more friendly for new mothers, an area where the health district is leading by example. Employees at the agency are allowed to bring infants to work and a private room was designated for breast feeding and pumping. Fong said the room is so popular that employees have to sign up for time slots to use it.


Bremerton’s Rice Fergus Miller maintains a healthy pace of work for its 46 employees, but a few unique perks help the architecture firm’s leadership attend to individual health of those workers as well.

Every Thursday afternoon a delivery arrives at RFM’s front door from Abundantly Green farm in Poulsbo. The brown paper bags contain eight shares of a Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, that employees can opt in to for their family or to share among one another. It’s not a perk the company pays for, but it’s a draw for workers looking to eat right, support local farms and, perhaps most importantly, save time on errands.

“Some of our benefits are more about making something available to makes life easier for our employees,” Monica Blackwood, director of administration, said. “It saves time that they can be spending with their family or doing other things.”

That has meant the weekly delivery of fresh produce through the summer and fall, an agreement with a bakery that brought in fresh loaves for sale once a week, a pick-up and delivery service for dry cleaning and a masseuse that schedules on-site appointments.

“We’re simplifying life,” Blackwood, a mother to two busy children herself, said. “I can have this done while I’m at work, and not worry about it.”

An August delivery from Abundant Farms contained Sweet100 tomatoes, Gala apples, brussels sprouts, cucumbers and pluots, which were quickly split between members of the marketing department. It’s a benefit that may not be as significant as health insurance, dental or retirement plans, but it is one that catches the attention of recruits when RFM is looking to hire, said Blackwell.

“People get really excited when they hear you have a CSA in the office.”


Melissa Dylan has worked enough jobs (37 by her count) to know how well, and how poorly, employees can be treated.

When she opened a fabric store in downtown Bremerton last month she decided concentrate on keeping her staff happy and energized, figuring engaged employees would provide the best customer service.

“My number one priority is how we treat ourselves and our employees and ourselves,” Dylan said.

Dylan Fabric employees are allowed to bring their children to the shop (the store’s first worker regularly brings three). Breast feeding is encouraged. Wages start at $15 an hour and Dylan is hoping to offer some level of benefits even to part-time workers.

Dylan said it was tempting to phase these perks in over time — launching a new business, after all, is tough under any circumstances. But she was determined to offer a good employee experience from the start.

“It’s going to succeed of fail based on the people involved here,” she said. “If I fail, I’d rather fail treating people well.”


For each of the six years Deborah Howard has managed the City of Port Orchard’s human resources department, her office has helped bring home the “WellCity Award” from the Association of Washington Cities.

Though the honor is earned by focusing on best practices for employee health and helps reduce the cost of medical benefits, Howard’s quick to point out that Port Orchard works creatively to ensure “health” is more than just encouraging exercise.

“With wellness, it’s not just about physical activity and eating right, it’s also stress relief,” she said.

That came into stark terms for Howard during the Great Recession, when morale was suffering due to uncertainty in the economy and city jobs that always seemed to absorb more duties. She said an annual survey of employee satisfaction always has one common denominator mentioned — stress.

“That’s why these crazy things are a release; people look forward to it,” she said.

“Crazy” is Howard’s description of the annual “office Olympics” held at a Public Works building, when creativity takes over. A “toss the boss” competition with an inflatable office worker, races in desk chairs or walking an obstacle course while pushing a lawn mower are dreamed up by her wellness committee and done to build camaraderie. Other ideas from the employee committee have included a “poker walk” among Bay Street business, when city workers used their lunch break to take walks to merchants and pick up a card, a “show me the funny” day when employees each brought in a photo from their awkward years, and an upcoming volunteer project to donate blankets for veterans at Retsil.

Howard said Port Orchard is trying to include mental health in its creative approach even though most programs that are reflected in insurance rates — like WellCity — focus on the physical.

“This stuff just makes everybody feel engaged, and basically just gets people together.”