The University of Houston-Victoria is encouraging employees to take charge of their health with a new policy that allows paid time off for exercise and offers workers many choices in how they do so.
Under the new fitness release program, employees can have up to three hours of paid leave each week to engage in exercise with the approval of their supervisor. The program, approved Wednesday by the UHV President's Cabinet, joins a list of many progressive benefits at UHV.
"Most people know regular exercise leads to improved health," said Laura Smith, UHV human resources director. "But not everyone knows that healthier employees are more productive, more fulfilled in their jobs and miss fewer days because of illness."
Wellness programs reduce the high costs associated with poor health among employees, Smith said.
"UHV has implemented an outstanding policy to emphasize the university's commitment to employee health and wellness," said Andy Brantley, chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources in Knoxville, Tenn. "I sincerely hope that this will become a model policy for other higher education institutions."
UHV's program allows greater freedom and flexibility compared with similar published policies adopted at other Texas universities, Smith said.
Other policies require employees to exercise at a university-owned health facility or specify a certain number of minutes an employee can use each day, Smith said.
Such rigid requirements can make it difficult for someone to find the fitness program that works for them, experts said.
"Different people get better results from different fitness routines," explained Julie Hughes, director of the DeTar Health Center, the official workout facility of the UHV Jaguars baseball and softball teams. Age, health and fitness goals all affect what the best workout is for an individual, she said.
For example, two of the more popular routines call for an hour-long workout three times a week with rest days in between or 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, she said. Some people do a combination of both.
UHV's new program gives employees more flexibility to choose what works best for them, Smith said.
Many people don't exercise or stop working out because of the time demands of work and family life, Hughes said. Policies like UHV's create the time so more people can enjoy the higher quality of life physical fitness brings without sacrificing other vital parts of their lives.
The idea for the new program originated from the UHV Staff Council, which represents employees to the university administration.
"We were discussing potential new benefits for employees that would also better the university as a whole," said Past Chair Randy Faulk, recalling an officers' meeting last year where the idea was first discussed.
The program seemed a perfect fit and was welcomed by the administration.
"The ideal citizen since ancient times has a fit mind in a fit body," UHV President Tim Hudson said. "Our goal at UHV is to produce leading citizens, so we need to model that ideal ourselves. I want to thank the Staff Council for its creativity in bringing forward this wonderful new benefit that will better the lives of our employees."
In the past, the Staff Council has created popular programs like the staff scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for employees to take a class each semester. At the start of the fall semester, UHV awarded $82,000 in staff scholarships, $32,000 more than originally requested in the budget. The additional funds needed because of the popularity of the program came from interest off a university account.
Other innovative benefits include the college release time program, which allows employees paid time off for three hours each week to pursue higher education. Faulk noted that combined leave times with it and the new fitness release program cannot exceed three hours per week.
"Benefits like these help UHV attract and keep the best and brightest employees possible so we can offer a superior learning environment for our students," Hudson said.