Duluth-based Maurices awarded as fit-friendly workplaceKnowing her family history of diabetes, Robin Murphy already had been trying to stay fit. But she didn’t make significant progress until her employer hired a wellness coordinator.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Knowing her family history of diabetes, Robin Murphy already had been trying to stay fit. But she didn’t make significant progress until her employer hired a wellness coordinator.
“What I learned by having Jamie here is that I didn’t push myself enough,” said Murphy, 48. “It was so easy to stop.”
“Jamie” is Jamie Somrock, who talked her way into an internship at Maurices headquarters in downtown Duluth in January 2011 while she was still a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Seven months later, she was hired full-time.
Maurices’ commitment to helping associates — the company avoids the word “employees” — achieve healthy lifestyles has earned the American Heart Association’s designation as a “Fit Friendly” company. It’s only the third entity in the Northland to achieve that rating, along with UMD and Essentia Health.
Helping the 360 associates in its downtown offices keep fit isn’t a new thing for Maurices, said Cindy Kerr, the company’s benefits manager. It has had its own fitness facilities for a number of years. It brought in Weight Watchers programs and other fitness- and health-related classes from the outside.
“But people wanted more,” Kerr said. “So to do more we really needed to make that commitment.”
It’s all part of making Maurices an attractive place to work, Kerr said.
“For a lot of our positions, we’re recruiting nationally and trying to get people to move here from big metropolitan areas,” she said. “We really try to create a culture that is vibrant.”
Another factor is the company’s financial health, she said.
“We’d like to impact our health-care claims,” Kerr said. “We know that helping people be healthier will affect the bottom line.”
About the time Somrock came aboard, the company moved its fitness center from a dark basement with low ceilings to a spacious third-floor room where associates have views of Lake Superior as they exercise on treadmills and other equipment. The company also installed new and expanded showers and changing rooms.
Still, Kerr, whose job included coordinating fitness activities, hadn’t planned to hire someone for that role. Somrock, a Duluth native who graduated from UMD with a community health education degree, said she approached Kerr “on a whim” because a friend had interned at Maurices previously.
She was turned down. Two weeks later, Kerr called and offered the internship.
“I wasn’t looking for an intern at the moment, but she was one I just couldn’t pass up,” Kerr said.
“And when our fiscal year started in August, that’s when they surprised me and created my position,” Somrock added.
Somrock, a tall 25-year-old with blond hair and infectious enthusiasm, seems perfectly suited for the job. “I get to dress like this,” she noted of the brightly colored gym shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes she was wearing.
Somrock leads one or two fitness classes a day in rooms set aside for the purpose. She brings in instructors in yoga, Zumba and kettlebell. She organizes training groups and contests aimed at achieving healthier lifestyles.
In one challenge, the goal of the 100 associates who enrolled was to lose a total of 500 pounds in four weeks; they actually lost 700 pounds. The company’s participation in the downtown Sidewalk Shuffle rose from 20 to 30 in recent years to 70 this summer.
She also has had an impact on office eating habits.
“When I first started here, we were ordering pizzas from Pizza Luce for our meetings,” Somrock said. “And, granted, we still do that once in a while; but just having me here, I feel like people have made a more conscientious effort to try to make the better choices. We’ve now catered from certain companies that have healthier options.”
Maurices tries to keep its headquarters associates, 98 percent of whom are female, from being overly deskbound, Kerr said. Associates can work on laptops in a comfortably furnished second-floor space known as the Loft. They can sign up to work at a walk station, a desk attached to a treadmill that moves at a steady 2 mph.
Murphy, who is a sales systems specialist, said she has seen the effect in her life. She was diagnosed as pre-diabetic about four years ago and as diabetic two years ago, she said. Although previous attempts to lose weight were largely unsuccessful, she has lost 25 pounds in the last several months. Her doctor noticed the improvement during her last visit.
“He just told me to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Murphy said.
Murphy is doing even more, recently running her first 5K. And she’s signed up as part of a 12-member Maurices team for the upcoming Great River Ragnar Relay from Winona, Minn., to Minneapolis. She’ll run 14 miles of the 200-mile course.
She credits Maurices, where she has worked 22 years, for providing fitness facilities. Living out of town, Murphy said, it would be difficult for her to find time to get to a fitness center otherwise. She said the classes on fitness, nutrition and wellness also have been helpful.
“And then, of course, having Jamie here. That was just wonderful.”
Fit-Friendly Worksites are recognized as employers who go above and beyond when it comes to promoting their employees’ health.
Examples of fit-friendly practices include:
Northland companies can apply for this designation online by July 31. The next round of submissions will be in January.
For more information, contact Kim Gear at email@example.com or (218) 727-7297.