Charkit Chemical Corporation's wellness program gaining strength

By Ira Morrison

Charkit's Margot Lent and Christian Gomez participating in Norwalk Big League Kickball. (Photo courtesy of Big League Kickball)

Company leaders know instinctively that supporting health and wellness activities is a valuable benefit for employees. Research has established that active work-based wellness programs help build teamwork, boost morale, reduce healthcare costs, and improve productivity. But, like anything else that requires employee involvement on a personal level, it takes time, effort, and ongoing communication to build momentum and participation.

Norwalk's Charkit Chemical Corporation has 55 full- and part-time employees. This chemical distribution company offers a wide range of products to the specialty chemical, flavor and fragrance, personal care, food, pharmaceutical, imaging, water treatment, and metal treatment industries. Founded in 1982 by Charlie Hinnant, Charkit's president, the firm joined CBIA's Health Connections program in 2011. Bryant Hinnant, Charlie's brother and Charkit's general counsel, is part of the senior management team and served as the company's original wellness champion.

Slow Start

Charkit, says Hinnant, started out promoting health and wellness conservatively: everyone on their team liked the idea, but people were all very busy with work and life, and many had their own physical fitness regimens already in place. Employees were encouraged to complete CBIA's online personal health assessment, and CBIA Healthy Connections and other wellness articles were shared with the employees. There was some enthusiasm to start, he recalls, but no formal effort or large movement to jump on the fitness bandwagon.

"When it comes to personal health and a healthy lifestyle, people often have good intentions. But motivation typically takes time, gentle and consistent prompting, or a significant change in personal health or circumstances," Hinnant says. "Some of our employees were golfers, some were runners, we had a few gym lovers, but we also had a lot of couch potatoes."

Charlie Hinnant decided to build an onsite gym and make it available for free to employees. Charkit added a weight room, universal exercise machine room, and bicycles, rowing, and jogging equipment. The firm also added lockers, two shower areas, and a TV. Initially only a few employees used the gym, but that number is now up to 12 regular users plus other employees who work out as time permits. Videos on training, biking, and related subjects were also made available to employees.

Strengthening Teamwork

About four months ago, Hinnant turned the wellness champion role over to Christian Gomez, an accountant for the company. Both acknowledge that not every company or small business can build a gym onsite, but say much can be done to encourage employee health and wellness. For example, Charkit has sponsored flu-shot clinics and hosted fitness meetings and discussions. Gomez talks regularly to his fellow employees to gauge their interest and measure participation in wellness activities, and Charkit management pays entry fees for community walks and charitable athletic events; sponsors activities in several local programs; and is very open to suggestions for new programs.

"In addition to working out, our employees have been involved in cancer walks, and we sponsor a co-ed kickball team," Gomez says. "We also support other team-building interests, such as community food and clothing drives. If someone comes to us with a good idea, we'll take it up the ladder as required to obtain funding, communicate it to the staff, and actively promote participation." The support and outreach is appreciated, he stresses, and he turns to the CBIA Healthy Connections health and wellness portal and other resources for ideas and suggestions.

"Even though I've only been in the role a short while, I can see the difference in people's attitudes and impressions," Gomez observes. "While it's all across the board, almost everyone does something of interest to them related to improving their health and wellness, whether formally or informally. They appreciate the opportunities and the fact that our company is taking a role in helping them reduce stress and improve their health. What they're doing doesn't matter as much as the fact that they're choosing to do something."

Hinnant agrees, and adds that when companies demonstrate an interest in their employees' welfare and health, people notice, and it drives participation and strengthens teamwork. "In many ways, we're just in our infancy when it comes to wellness," Hinnant reflects. "We'll continue looking for ways to participate, be it through softball, bowling, soccer, charity events, or whatever interests our staff and fits their schedules. There's only so much you can do when we all have our 'day jobs,' but as we get more experience and our efforts mature, so will participation and the direction of our programs."

Ira Morrison is a freelance writer in Bristol specializing in healthcare issues.