At Waste Management, employees are encouraged to be pioneers in problem solving, leaders in education and champions of service. They're also encouraged to be champions of a more personal priority: wellness.
In fact, wellness is so crucial to the core of Waste Management's values that the company started an eight-week program to instill healthy habits in all of its employees from California to Florida. The Waste Management Couch-to-5K initiative, launched in 2016, was developed as a way for employees to get active and seek fitness in an inclusive and encouraging environment. Employee participation and excitement around the first companywide wellness challenge was so great in 2016 that the company decided to bring it back this year, bigger and better than before.
Thousands of Waste Management employees in hundreds of locations coast to coast opted to participate in the Couch-to-5K training — or 5K-to-10K for advanced runners — between March and June, followed by local and regional races in early July. Eloisa Orozco, senior area communications manager for Waste Management of Southern California, told Waste Dive that participants included virtually every demographic of employee, along with their families.
"What I found beautiful about this program is that it attracts everyone across the spectrum," she said, noting how some employees even had the opportunity to meet colleagues they've never interacted with face-to-face before. "You can be an employee who’s in great shape and excited about it, or you can be an employee who’s never done a 5K or isn’t really active but you also feel part of it."
Yet inclusivity wasn't the only key to a successful program. Flexibility, teamwork and motivation were also cited — from the headquarters in Houston all the way down to the local level.
Motivation for movement
For years, Waste Management has had a wellness program that offers on-site biometrics screenings and guidance from regional "wellness champions," allowing for even the busiest employees to maintain a healthy regimen despite work schedules.
"We do have some positions that are very strenuous on the body. We have positions where they’re more sedative, where the employees are sitting behind a desk," Orozco said. She specifically noted how wellness programs are particularly beneficial to drivers, who she considers "like athletes, using their bodies every day."
Carole Grimard, manager of health promotion & wellness programs at Waste Management, told Waste Dive that having a wellness program — which now includes the Couch-to-5K program — allows drivers, who sometimes start their days at four or five in the morning, to stay involved.
"I think that in the waste industry, it’s really hard for drivers to be involved as much as you'd like them to be in healthier activities because of their schedules," she said.
Mike Zamora, a district manager in Los Angeles and Couch-to-5K participant, told Waste Dive he was motivated to run the race because of the physical demands he also feels in his occupation.
"We go from site to site, we’re in and out of our vehicles throughout the day so we want to make sure we have that ability to stay fit," he said. He also noted the value of wellness for his family. As a dad with young kids, Zamora sympathized with many of his peers who may be wishing to get in shape and become more active parents.
"It’s not about saying ‘I want to get to a specific goal.’ It’s about changing your lifestyle and doing things little by little that are healthier," he said.
While Grimard spearheaded the event with Jennifer Roherty, the Cigna onsite wellbeing coordinator for Waste Management, the duo noted that putting on such a large event wasn't a two-person task. "It takes a village," Grimard said.
Every employee that participated was encouraged to spread the word, bring family and help make it a "festive event," according to Shiraz Kashar, community outreach and education leader for Waste Management of Florida.
"This brings out a lot of pride for employees of Waste Management. A lot of camaraderie comes out of this," he told Waste Dive while detailing the features of the Florida race, which included food and music. Other events had dance-offs, hula hoop competitions and even pet contests. And most importantly, Waste Management donated money in the name of every participant of the program to the American Heart Association or the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. It is estimated that the 2017 initiative raised approximately $15,000 in total for the charities.
Kashar said there's no one answer to putting on a successful event, but did touch on the value of networking and knowing "the right person at each site to market this program to the folks." Orozco also mentioned the value of networking, but suggested for other municipalities or companies wishing to put on a 5K to not worry about participation rates.
"I think some people may go there from the beginning and wonder, will there be participation? Will they buy in? I would say go for it, engage with people, ask your employees. You’d be surprised," she said. "For us it really just opened our eyes to what our people care about."