Duluth tech firm installs wellness center to attract, retain employeesHidden behind an expansive wall that lines an entry is a little-known, 4,000-square-foot wellness center that’s part of the headquarters of Sansio, a software service provider.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
Take the Lake Avenue skywalk to the Technology Village in downtown Duluth during the lunch hour, and you’re likely to hear basketballs being dribbled and hoops shot.
In an office building?
Hidden behind an expansive wall that lines the entry is a little-known, 4,000-square-foot wellness center that’s part of the headquarters of Sansio, a software service provider. It includes a sport court, Cybex machines, free weights, cardio machines, a multi-camera golf studio, even a personal trainer. Its locker rooms are downright spa-like with private dressing rooms, saunas, towel service and complimentary gym bags.
All for Sansio employees.
“We want people to feel good coming here,” said Kevin Noreen, Sansio’s chief financial officer. “We wanted it to be an employee benefit that is well thought of.”
The primary purpose is to attract and retain employees, he said.
“We feel a healthy employee taking part in a wellness program is going to be more productive and potentially save money downstream in health insurance costs,” he said.
“The club,” as it’s called, helped convince Perry Speros to work there.
“It was an added perk, absolutely,” said Speros, 41, who started in Sansio’s Solutions Center seven weeks ago. “Overall, this played a factor in my decision-making. I think it’s important to have a good fitness program throughout life. It keeps you fit. It keeps you young.”
And when one has a computer job like he does, it’s easy to not be active, he said.
Founded in 1997, Sansio develops software for health-care providers and fire and emergency medical services. Most of its technical staff members work at the Tech Village. They range in age from the early 20s to late 50s, but most are between 28 and 42, Noreen said.
Speros and other employees are finding that getting a workout steps away from their cubicles is saving them time, money and causing them to work out more.
Before the wellness center opened in February 2012, many of the mostly male staff members walked back and forth to the downtown YMCA for noon workouts, said Eric Nelson, a lead software program developer who’s been with Sansio 14 years.
“It saves us time,” said Nelson, 45, as he neared the end of a 45-minute run on a treadmill last week. “Now it not only saves time, it saves me a monthly fee at the Y. Ultimately, I get a better workout because I get to work out longer.”
And the results?
“I’m stronger and faster than I was before because of the longer workouts,” he said.
Employees pay just $1 every payday to use the wellness center. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. About 70 percent of Sansio’s 57 employees at the Tech Village use it at least three times a week. And their families can use it, too.
“We have found great participation,” Noreen said. “The employees have rallied around it. It’s hard to measure productivity, but we have a happy, productive work force. The hope is we’ll be better off as a corporation. In addition, our employees will be better off.”
The center’s full-time personal trainer, Phil DesMarais, leads workout classes and guides employees toward their fitness goals. He has initial meetings with participating employees to assess their fitness, help them set goals and work out a program to get them there.
He devised a program for employee Erin Swanstrom, who wanted to build core strength without aggravating the back problems she’s had in the past. She works out four or five days a week during her lunch hour, alternating workouts for her upper body, lower body and cardio.
“The best part is it’s so convenient,” said Swanstrom, 38, who proudly said she’s gained 10 pounds of muscle. “I can do more in my everyday life than I normally could.”
The wellness center is in space adjacent to Sansio’s offices that had never been occupied before. The company decided to take the space when it was going through a lease renewal. It also expanded its office space at about the same time.
The idea for the company gym was bolstered by CEO Dale Pearson’s dream of having a place where he could shoot hoops and blow off steam, Noreen noted.
Employees were excited about the prospect of having a place to work out on site, staff members say.
“The result was nicer than anything we had ever imagined,” Swanstrom said. “It’s more than just the gym. It’s knowing your employer cares about you. If they provide this for their employees, they definitely think of their employees as an asset.”
While some other businesses, including nearby Maurices and Minnesota Power, have similar, though smaller workout areas for their employees, Noreen said that’s not why Sansio did it.
“We try not to follow, we try to take the lead,” he said. “We try to run our business the best for ourselves.”
It also fits in with Sansio’s nontraditional office approach. A pingpong table serves as its conference table and the employee lounge looks more like a small bistro.
Noreen isn’t saying how much the wellness center cost the company.
That’s not the point, he said.
“An organization is measured by the people who are part of it,” he said. “We value those people. It’s important for us to put forward programs that identify the value of the people in our organization. It’s valuing our employees.”