AUGUSTA — Kennebec Savings Bank president and CEO Andrew Silsby said the organization changed overnight in early February. But not for reasons one might expect.

The bank started a Fitbit-based wellness program earlier this year, and Silsby said the results have already exceeded expectations.

“We’ve been surprised beyond our wildest dreams,” Silsby said. “We really have changed people’s behaviors, and I’m amazed at what it’s done.”

What it’s done, according to senior vice president and chief human resources officer Kevin Healey, is change behavior, increase energy levels and team cohesion and change employees’ habits and attitude.

“With some wellness programs, you always wonder if it’s making a difference, but with this, you don’t wonder,” Healey said. “You can look and see the data.”

The data says that 70 of 116 employees at the company are participating in the program. Some already owned Fitbit devices while others took advantage of a $50 company subsidy. In February, the company established its Fitbit online community and calculated a baseline exceeding 11.5 million steps.

The company set a goal to add 10 percent to the baseline amount for March, and bank-wide the company averaged 475,000 steps. For April, the company hopes to exceed 15 million steps, and all participants will receive a fruit infusion water bottle.

The healthy competition has spawned challenges throughout the company, and Healey said he has seen instances where employees are “arguing over who’s office to meet in because they each want to walk to get their steps.”

“The employees have embraced it because they are all doing it together,” Healey said. “This gives our employees another avenue to have fun with each other.”

Craig Garafolo, the bank’s chief operating officer, owned a Fitbit for several years and hosted two learning sessions in January to help introduce interested staffers to the device. He holds meetings with Zach Nichols, a digital services manager, on the Kennebec River Rail Trail.

“We were talking about how sedentary we are at work, and we came to the mutual conclusion that we could be walking while we were talking,” Garafolo said. “The Rail Trail is perfect.”

Jennifer Bechard, a human resources officer, started at the bank a few years ago and formed a group that walks during lunch. People are feeling really positive about making a change to their overall health, she said.

“(Our group) was a trendsetter,” Bechard said. Now several groups walk throughout the day at the bank. “People are caught up with how many steps they’re taking and are pushing each other to another level.”

Silsby said he knows this is a fad that might not be around in two years, but he hopes that if the newness wears off, enough people with stick with the program.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to change behavior,” Silsby said. “This is a long-term game to make sure employees stay healthy.”

The company has done fitness programs in the past, but none have had the support and success of this one. Healey said a big reason for the success is the participation by company leaders.

“Other programs I’ve been involved in (during my career) didn’t take off because they weren’t embraced by upper management,” Healey said. “We’ve got senior leaders up to the president and CEO, and employees see Andrew in the Top 10 on the community page and it motivates them.”

Increased company morale and productivity are effects of the program, Healey said. Sarah Hentges, an associate professor and fitness instructor at the University of Maine at Augusta in Bangor, said the use of fitness trackers in the workplace can build on the camaraderie and competition that already exists.

“Fitness trackers promote a shared culture of fitness, health and wellness,” Hentges said. “They can change the way we think about exercise from being an extra chore and obligation to being active and finding opportunities to celebrate that activity.”

Ross Cunningham, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said in a blog post on the chamber’s website that the benefits of a healthy workplace are immeasurable. He said the chamber has “become bitten by the fitness bug through the use of Fitbit technology.” The chamber holds meeting that involve walking around a conference table, and they will be facing off against the Kennebec Valley Federal Credit Union in a steps competition next month.

Healey said Kennebec Savings Bank stands to benefit from having healthier employees because of a reduction in sick days and rising health care costs. But Healey said that’s not what the program’s main focus is about.

“It’s going to help us long-term on our health care costs if we can get them to keep doing it,” Healey said. “We’re trying to create a habit so that if someone drops off the wagon, they’ll miss it and come back. It’s a lifelong habit.”

In addition to the Fitbit program, the company initiated a $250 annual reimbursement toward membership in any full-season fitness club with cardio and strength equipment. It also took advantage of a $150 reimbursement from Harvard Pilgrim Health Insurance for membership at the YMCA.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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