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Tamarack Junction’s simple approach to fitness

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

The management team at Tamarack Junction had all sorts of good reasons to launch an employee-fitness program, and most of those good reasons have been borne out.

But one of the biggest benefits of the program — improved customer service — came as a surprise.

Casey Sullivan, general manager of the south Reno casino and restaurant, remembers that it’s time for him to get up from behind his desk and take his hourly walk. As he escorts a visitor of his office, he exchanges pleasantries with a regular customer, chats with a couple of employees who are swapping out a slot machine on the floor and heads back to his desk.



Sullivan got a few steps closer to his goal of 10,000 steps a day — and he made a couple of contacts that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Multiply that by the extra trips that a drinks server makes around the casino floor, the times that executives decide to take a walking break with employees around the property, and the benefits accumulate rapidly.



Tamarack Junction launched the program at the start of this year, giving pedometers to any of its 200 employees who might want to keep track of their daily steps.

Sullivan says the property wasn’t motivated by a desire to control health-benefit costs. In the current environment, he says, it’s hard to get a handle on cause-and-effect with healthcare costs. Rather, some health issues among the company’s staff became worrisome in an organization that feels like family.

“We asked ourselves what could we do to help our people get healthy,” says Sullivan, who notes that gym memberships and the like probably would have been daunting. “We decided that if we can get employees to change their lifestyles a little bit, it would be a great step.”

From that modest beginning with pedometers, Human Resources Manager Allison Grant developed some playful approaches to get employees walking.

Teams of employees were challenged, for instance, to take the number of steps they would need to cover Amtrak routes across the country (a natural, given Tamarack Junction’s railroad theme).

Another program challenged teams to walk the number of steps necessary to climb some of the world’s highest mountains. Some employees got so involved that they researched the countries in which the mountains are located.

The human resources team kept its help low-key. It provided some basic statistics — How many steps from the employee entrance to the time clock? — and helped more active employees convert activities such as an afternoon on the ski slope into an equivalent number of steps.

It worked with Sam’s Club to provide prizes for participants, and made sure that all participants, not just top performers, were eligible for prizes.

From there, Tamarack Junction developed walking trails around its property. Using rocks, exercise bands and old carpet, the property created a simple but effective outdoor workout area.

While the walking program has drawn consistent participation from about 80 employees, a handful took it a step farther and drove themselves to prepare for the Tough Mudder event at Lake Tahoe in August.

“It was a major accomplishment,” says Lisa Johnson, the property’s administrative manager and of the four employees to complete Tough Mudder.

The health benefits of the program have been notable. Several employees no longer are diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and Grant says several have lost 50 or more pounds. Participation is strong in smoking-cessation programs and blood-pressure screening.

Equally important has been creation of a health-oriented culture, she says. Teams drawn from different work groups and different shift compare notes about their performance and encourage one another to reach their goals.

“The team-building has been the best part of it,” says Sullivan.