A Healthy Organization Includes a Healthy Workforce

Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (STEMC) is a consumer-owned, non-profit electric distribution cooperative located in West Tennessee with approximately 50,000 members. STEMC has five district offices in Atoka, Covington, Brownsville, Jackson, and Henderson, TN, and touches parts of 11 West Tennessee counties. STEMC has approximately 4,000 miles of electric distribution lines.  As far as electric distribution cooperatives in the State of Tennessee, STEMC ranks sixth with respect to the number of members and seventh with respect to the miles of distribution line. STEMC is the largest electric cooperative in West Tennessee and currently has 122 employees.

Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation (STEMC) believes a healthy organization includes a healthy workforce. Living a healthy lifestyle has many side benefits.  Healthy employees are more productive, happier, use less sick leave and, therefore, are at work more often.  Healthy employees feel better about themselves and are more confident.  

Last year, STEMC President and CEO Kevin Murphy challenged employees to beat him in a local 5K race to earn eight hours of additional vacation time.  Murphy even agreed to push an employee who had been in a recent automobile accident in a wheel chair during the race.  STEMC had 13 employees participate in 2017 in what became known as “Team Dalton vs Team STEMC.”        

Picture 1 – “Team Dalton vs Team STEMC” at Stop, Drop and Run 5K in Brighton, TN, in 2017

This year, STEMC President and CEO Kevin Murphy offered eight hours of additional vacation time if the employee beat the Vice President of Operations, Michael Russell.  Also, this year, if their spouse participated, they would gain another four hours for a total of 12 hours of additional vacation time (secret – they really didn’t have to beat the Vice President of Operations”they just had to participate and complete the 3.1 mile course).  As another gesture to increase participation, the opportunity was expanded to three different races – one on the West side of the territory, one in the middle, and one on the East side of the territory. As a result, the participation increased to approximately 43 employees and 26 spouses. An incredible 1/3 of the employees participated.

Picture 2 – Team STEMC at Pig Trot 5K in Henderson, TN

Picture 3 – Team STEMC at Stop, Drop and Run 5K in Brighton, TN

Picture 4 – Team STEMC at Marla Angotti 5K in Brownsville, TN

STEMC hopes the 5K races encourages employees to get up, get out, and run, walk or jog.  It doesn’t matter as long as they are moving and moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

In addition to encouraging employees to participate in local 5K races, STEMC also has an Activity Tracker Program which started in July 2016.  An activity tracker is a wireless-enabled wearable technology device (looks like a watch) that measures data such as the number of steps taken, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed and other personal metrics involved in fitness.  In short, a device used to motivate and improve health by tracking activity.  In the Activity Tracker Program, employees are reimbursed up to $100 for the purchase of the device.  Once the employees purchase the device, they can join the STEMC group through an app which allows them to compete against their fellow employees in the number of steps they make each month. Of the 48 employees who have purchased activity trackers, 30 of them participate in the tracking group through the app. As a part of STEMC’s safety and health program, Safety Jackpot cards are given out which allow employees to win cash and prizes.  For every 100,000 steps each month, an employee gets two Safety Jackpot cards. By the way, there are several employees who are members of the 500K Club which means they obtained over 500,000 steps in one month.  That’s 16-17,000 steps per day.  The American Heart Association recommends at least 10,000 steps per day for a healthy heart and a healthy lifestyle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some benefits of encouraging employees to have a heathier lifestyle include less stress, less obesity, less fatigue, less heart disease, and less strokes which can increase profitability, increase productivity, and lower health costs.  Work related stress is the number one workplace health issue and a major occupational risk, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity. Full-time workers in the United States who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health problems miss about 450 million more days of work than healthy workers, costing more than 153 billion a year in lost productivity. Inadequate sleep and fatigue leads to worker errors, low productivity and safety incidents which affect business profitability. Heart disease and stroke are among the most widespread and costly health problems facing our nation today.  Treatment of these diseases accounts for about $1 of every $6 spent on US health care. Companies which have exemplary safety, health and environmental programs outperformed the S&P 500 by between three and five percent.

Some other recent studies found employees who exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times per week, are more likely to have higher job performance. Additionally, according to research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Brigham Young University, and the Center for Health Research at Healthways, workers who ate healthy meals and exercised on a regular basis had lower absenteeism. Overall, absenteeism was 27 percent  lower and job performance was 11 percent higher for those workers who ate healthy and regularly exercised compared to their peers.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) reports, of employers offering wellness programs, 67% reported increased employee satisfaction, 66 percent reported increased productivity, 63% reported increased financial sustainability and growth, and 50% reported decreased absenteeism.

Picture 5 – STEMC Collector Betty Cooper taunts VP of Operations, Michael Russell, with a donut while brandishing a stick to trip him to ensure she gets her 8 hours of vacation time

At STEMC, we want to encourage employees to be healthy and live a healthy lifestyle so they can live long lives, continue to provide financially for themselves and their families including enjoying quality time together, and serve our members well by being productive and efficient for many years to come.

About the authors: Michael Ray Russell, PE, is Vice President of Operations at Southwest Tennessee EMC (STEMC) and has been employed there for five years.  Michael retired as Manager of Electric Substation Engineering and Operations from Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) after 25 years of service. Michael has his PE license in the State of Tennessee, obtained his MBA in Finance from Christian Brother’s University and his BSEE from the University of Memphis.

Brian Holland is the Safety Coordinator at Southwest Tennessee EMC (STEMC) and has been employed there for three years.  Brian retired as General Supervisor of System Lighting and Maintenance from Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) after 25 years of service. Brian is a Certified Utility Safety professional, Certified Safety Coordinator through TVPPA and is currently seeking his certification as a Certified Loss Control Professional through the NRECA.


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