Her pet project: Workplace wellness

Anna Stout, executive director of the Roice-Hurst Humane Society, spends some time with one of the dogs at the Grand Junction animal shelter and adoption center. Stout has received recognition for efforts to care for the people who care for pets. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Anna Stout, executive director of the Roice-Hurst Humane Society, spends some time with one of the dogs at the Grand Junction animal shelter and adoption center. Stout has received recognition for efforts to care for the people who care for pets. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Anna Stout believes it’s essential to care for the people who care for the animals at the Roice-Humane Society in Grand Junction. The well-being of employees correlates with the well-being of the cats and dogs housed there.

“It’s not just a perk,” says Stout, executive director of the animal shelter and adoption center. “It is a necessity.”

To that end, Stout and her staff have developed a wellness program that includes everything from supplemental insurance and matches for contributions to retirement accounts to presentations at weekly staff meetings and what’s dubbed “butterfly breaks.”

Stout says the program has helped retain existing staff and recruit new staff — in some instances luring employees away from higher-paying jobs elsewhere. More than anything, though, the effort has changed the workplace environment, she says. “It’s a wellness culture. That’s what we’re building here.”

The effort also has garnered Stout and the Roice-Hurst Humane Society statewide recognition. Health Links awarded Stout its Director’s Award, and Roice-Hurst was among five finalists for the Champion of Innovation Award. Health Links presented the awards in Denver as part of an annual event honoring the healthiest places to work in Colorado.

The Director’s Award recognizes an individual who demonstrates leadership in implementing an integrated approach to promoting health and safety. The Champion of Innovation Award recognizes an organization that takes an innovative approach to promoting workplace wellness.

“These organizations represent the change we’re striving to foster with Health Links,” says Lili Tenney, director of Health Links and deputy director of the Center for Health, Work and Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health.

“It was an honor to recognize employers from different sectors and industries that are dedicated to prioritizing the health, safety, and well-being of their people. Working together, we’re making Colorado workplaces a little safer and healthier every day,” Tenney says.

A program of the Colorado School of Public Health, Health Links collaborates with employers across the state to promote workplace health and safety. Advisors offer assistance and connect employers with resources. An online tool is used to assess employers on their efforts and designate them as Certified Healthy Business Partners.

“To get the recognition was incredible,” Stout says.

The awards validate an endeavor to make Roice-Hurst not only one of the best places to work in the Grand Valley, but also one of the best places to work in Colorado, she says.

The program offers an example other businesses could follow, Stout says, in that it’s inexpensive. “The beauty of all this is it doesn’t cost that much.”

Stout joined the Roice-Hurst Humane Society in 2015 in what initially was supposed to be an interim position.

She brought to the position her experience in operating nonprofit organizations and businesses. At age 19, she launched the Foundation for Cultural Exchange promoting exchanges and a sister city relationship between Western Colorado and El Espino, El Salvador. She also operated Transfinem Language and Cultural Services, working as a certified Spanish translator and court and medical interpreter.

Stout says she soon realized she couldn’t accomplish what she wanted at Roice-Hurst in a year. Moreover, she recognized opportunities to expand on the mission of the organization. “That excited me from the beginning.”

At the same time, Stout says she saw the need to change the culture. While employees cared about the animals, that didn’t cross over to their interactions with each other or the people who surrendered or adopted pets at the shelter. The first step, she said, was to encourage empathy. “That empathy is the starting point for everything we do with wellness.”

Several employee benefits were added as part of the wellness program, Stout says, including a monthly payment of $39.50 employees can spend on wellness, whether that’s a gym membership of a dinner out with their families. That amount also works out to half the monthly membership at the Appleton Clinics health care provider.

Roice-Hurst also offers supplemental insurance, a program matching contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts and withholding for college savings plans.

Weekly staff meetings include presentations on topics related to wellness, safety and animal behavior. Time also is set aside for employees to list the thing for which they’re grateful.

Stout says one of her favorite aspects of the wellness program is dubbed “butterfly breaks” — 15 minutes to unwind in the butterfly house at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens in Grand Junction.

What the program doesn’t include, Stout says, is incentives — whether that’s for participating in activities, logging a certain number of steps a day or other achieving other milestones. “The reward should be being well.”

The wellness program has helped in lowering turnover, particularly for critical positions, as well as attracting more qualified job applicants, she says.

Stout also uses another, personal metric to track the results of the program. “This is a place I want to come to work every day.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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