Health Care

CPA firm hopes to deduct waistlines: KSM promotes wellness with weight-loss contest

April 11, 2005

Katz Sapper & Miller LLP is putting its money where its employees' mouths are, helping its work force stay fit and healthy during the hectic tax season.

In an industry where numbers are king, the local accounting firm is tabulating pounds, inches and cholesterol levels along with deductions, capital gains and tax credits.

Some 58 KSM employees are participating in a weight-loss competition from Jan. 15 to April 15. As procrastinating Americans are rushing their tax returns to mailboxes, KSM staffers will be stepping on the scales to determine the winner of the firm's "Biggest Loser" contest.

At stake are bragging rights and a $100 shopping mall gift certificate, as well as smaller prizes throughout the competition. The winner will be the one who loses the largest percentage of weight. As part of the slim-down challenge, participants were asked to outline their personal fitness goals.

But unlike last year's reality television show of the same name-where contestants were tempted with cookies and doughnuts to fall off the wagon-KSM is encouraging all of its 175 employees to eat healthier during the contest and beyond.

Gone are all but one vending machine from its north-side offices, and all the candy, chips and soda that were found within. There are no plans to bring the vending machines back.

In their place are two commercial-size refrigerators stocked with energy drinks, fruits, vegetables and yogurt.

KSM is footing the bill for both refrigerators and their contents, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by its employees. They're accountants, after all, and every penny matters.

"When we had candy machines, they had to pay for it. Now the yogurt and other snacks are free, and that's a tradeoff they saw as beneficial," said JoDee Curtis, KSM's human resources director.

In an additional effort to improve its employees' health, the firm is paying for several other benefits, including gym memberships, onsite health screenings for employees and their dependents, and full reimbursement for annual physicals.

KSM has also built locker rooms at its office building, making it easy for employees to shower and return to work after using the nearby Monon Trail at lunchtime.

The expenses will pay for themselves down the road with healthier, happier, more productive employees, KSM Managing Partner David Resnick said. "We think of it as an investment in our people. It may take a year or two for the benefits to outweigh the costs, but we're heading that way."

Resnick said he had not estimated the total cost of all the wellness programs.

Deciding to spend any amount of money on corporate wellness is difficult for some employers who fear they may never see a measurable return on their investment, said Michael Campbell, president of Fishers based CLS Benefits Solutions.

But it almost always produces positive results in areas such as employee productivity and absenteeism. It also attracts valuable people and keeps them from leaving, Campbell noted.

"Employers can affect turnover by having a stellar wellness program," he said.

KSM staff accountant Amber Rowe attests to that.

"Katz [Sapper & Miller] really does care about its employees," she said. "It's one of the reasons I wanted to work here."

Rowe, 23, joined the firm last fall after graduating from Butler University. She had interned with KSM during the 2004 tax season and knew what to expect this time around-long, stressful workdays, little or no time for exercise, and a few too many trips to the drive-through window. So she is taking full advantage of the wellness programs the company is offering,

including the weight-loss competition.

At first, Rowe said, she and her colleagues were surprised when the vending machines were shipped off the premises. But now she is happy the sweet, salty temptations have been removed.

"The Snickers bar isn't staring at me anymore," Rowe said.

It's forced many of her co-workers to realize what Rowe said they already knew-"a lot of people are aware of the fact that they should be eating better." So much so that the complimentary snacks now available have become coveted items.

"The funniest thing," Rowe said, "is to hear people ask, 'Did you eat the last of the raisins?'"

Many firms are heading in the same direction as KSM, according to CLS' Campbell, who also sits on the board of directors of the Wellness Council of Indiana. Removing vending machines would have seemed "radical" a few years ago, he said. "Now, a number of my clients are doing that."

With obesity rates rising and health care costs totaling 16 percent of the gross domestic product-up from just 6 percent 40 years ago-it's become a necessity to encourage and sometimes force American workers to get healthy.

"We have to address this," Campbell said. "Otherwise, [employers] won't be able to continue doing business."
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