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Company makes health pay for employees

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ATLANTA -

Most Georgians spend most of their lives on the job.  Between the long hours, stressful commutes and fast food lunches, it's hard to stay in shape. A growing number of companies are trying to make it easier for employees to get healthy.

Dale Van Hooser is a senior IT director at Georgia Pacific's downtown Atlanta headquarters. Georgia Pacific is partnering with wellness company Virgin Health Miles to try to inspire its 35,000 employees to get healthier.

"We issue challenges to one another, so all of a sudden people that don't normally get up from their desk all day are getting up out of their cubes, and they're walking around the building, they're walking around downtown," Van Hooser said.

The company not only gives employees pedometers, they offer up to $500 a year for workers to step up their game.

"There are five levels in our program, and each time that they hit a different level, of steps, they are able to then earn a cash bonus to them, which they can take immediately, or they can kind of hold out until they obtain their entire $500," said Tyneshia Farmer.

For non-walkers, there's an onsite fitness center with weights and workout machines, plus a basketball court and fitness coaches.

"I exercise every morning, come in here and throughout the day, people come in and out of here. There's a lot of classes that they put on here that the gym, group classes that these people participate in, as well as personal trainers," Van Hooser said.

The company cafeteria is packed with healthy, fresh foods. Employees are encouraged to keep track of their numbers, such as their cholesterol level and BMI and blood pressure. They check in at the Virgin Health Miles kiosk in the lobby.

There's also a minute clinic and a CVS pharmacy in the lobby.

Van Hooser likes the competitions that draw in people who've worked there for years, but never met.

"All of a sudden you see those people come together at noon time to go out and walk, spend time together and challenge one another," Van Hooser said.

Three years in, about 40 percent of the headquarters' employees have joined the wellness program.

"They love the benefit of the extra incentive. They're loving the increased activity. Noticing, being able to track that, ‘Hey I'm not as active as I thought I was, I need to step up my game,' so to speak," Farmer said.

Farmer said that if your company can't afford a wellness program, seek out the free health resources like the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society.

It's too soon to say if Georgia Pacific's wellness program will pay off financially, but Farmer said what's good for employees is good for business.

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