Some Kentucky Agencies Pay for Employee Exercise Breaks

Some state agencies in Kentucky allow their workers to have paid exercise breaks.

Department of Financial Institutions employee Lisa Clark said being able to extend her lunch break to work out has been so beneficial she hasn't had to visit her doctor for low back pain and fibromyalgia, which causes body-wide pain, in a year.

"Nothing has helped me like exercise has," said Clark, an administrative coordinator. "For me to be able to incorporate it into my lunch hour, motivates me to go to the gym."

At least three other agencies also allow employees to exercise on the clock -- the Department of Military Affairs, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Personnel Cabinet, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Personnel Cabinet spokeswoman Crystal Pryor says the "wellness breaks" are cost effective because they result in "reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, higher employee morale and lower health care costs for the Kentucky Employees' Health Plan, the state's self-funded insurance program."

Pryor noted a Harvard University study published last year that found that "medical costs fall about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs, and absentee day costs fall by about $2.73 for every dollar spent."

Different state agencies have different rules for using the program. Some employees can exercise up to five hours a week; others are limited to 90 minutes each week. Employees can participate only if their workload on a given day allows and only with approval from a supervisor.

Pryor said centralized records aren't kept on the number of workers who use the program, but she estimated that less than 20 employees in the Personnel Cabinet participate -- and none use the full 90 minutes each week that's allowed under the policy.

At the Department of Financial Institutions, Clark is one of three employees who use the exercise program. Participants have 150 minutes each week, including travel time, to work out and must sign in and sign out before and after exercising.

"Often these employees are discussing work issues while they are exercising so we really don't see this as cutting back on productivity," said Brown. "There are no hard facts around the impact of the program on reduction of sick leave, but certainly that is one of the benefits and trade-offs we hope to see over time."

Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Aug said 161 out of 165 employees at the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard have participated in the exercise program at least once. In warmer months, up to 74 employees at any given time will use the policy that allows three hours of exercise a week, she said. But the department's policy is that "serving veterans through all of our programs shall always take priority."

The most liberal exercise policy is at the Department of Military Affairs, which allows employees to exercise up to an hour a day or five hours a week.

Spokesman David Altom said civilians and military personnel work side by side and are expected to be equally physically fit.

"The key to our physical fitness program is found in the nature of our mission: the Department of Military Affairs is supporting the Kentucky National Guard in a time of war," Altom said.

Altom said between 20 and 25 percent of the departments 720 employees participate in the program.

"The payback," he said, is in "productivity and morale."