Podcast: Employee Wellness at Emporia Public Schools

Teacher Absences & Subs


Employee wellness programs aren’t just for corporate America anymore. In Emporia Public Schools, former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Dr. Andy Koenigs led the charge to create an incredibly successful wellness initiative from scratch.

Check out the podcast above to hear from Dr. Koenigs himself why wellness programs can be a core component of any district’s human capital management strategy, and what he did to make the new initiative a success at Emporia.

Why have an employee wellness program in your school district?

The idea to create a wellness program at Emporia initially sprouted from a committee on recruitment and retention as a way to improve engagement and show that the district cared for its employees as people. But Dr. Koenigs quickly found far more reasons to make sure the program was a success.

First of all, he found a study from Gallup that showed that teachers have the second most stressful job behind medical professionals like nurses and doctors.

“That really was startling to us. When we looked at our employees and asked them about their levels of stress in the assessment, it was true. Many of them felt stressed. So, we felt this was one way to address that.” – Dr. Andy Koenigs

Second, a wellness program could offer a path to lowering the district’s healthcare costs.

“We had struggled in our district with some health insurance cost increases, so we were looking at some ways that we could decrease our healthcare costs or at least manage them a little bit better… We know that a lot of businesses and corporations were doing employee wellness initiatives, but very few school districts had taken up this initiatives with employees, and it intrigued us to see if it actually would decrease our healthcare costs as well.”

How did Emporia create their wellness program?

The path to wellness started with a group of interested employees from across the district. The committee started by researching as many wellness programs as they could, but found it difficult to find information about wellness in K-12. So, they decided to start from scratch and create their own program, centered on what their employees really wanted.

They sent a survey to all staff, and found that employees really wanted a well-rounded program that touched on physical health, mental well-being, financial fitness and healthy eating. Then, they outlined what a holistic program that matched those needs would look like, and went to district leaders to secure a budget.

The wellness program was opened to staff at a back-to-school assembly, where employees could voluntarily sign up to participate. Participation was simple: there were three levels of incentives, which could be completed by finishing certain requirements such as completing a health risk assessment or going to a health fair. Employees could earn rewards like a water bottle, T-shirt or Fitbit for completing each level.

As the program took off, Dr. Koenigs made sure to communicate about the role of wellness in the district and celebrate participants’ successes. The local community began to take notice, and companies in the area began offering prizes that Emporia’s employees could win at a back-to-school meeting in the fall. And after the first year, the district was able to secure a $50,000 grant for the wellness program from their health insurance provider — making it easy to expand the program.

What impact did the wellness program have?

Of the 1,000 employees at Emporia’s first back-to-school assembly, over 560 people signed up for the new wellness program. And of those 567 employees who registered, over half completed the first level of incentives, and 190 people completed every requirement of the wellness program.

But Dr. Koenigs wanted to make sure that the program was successful in more than just garnering widespread participation, and used a variety of tools to track the program’s impact.

  • The district’s health risk assessment company provided group data.
  • Their health insurance company showed the district’s usage and claims rates.
  • Simple Google forms allowed the district to survey staff members for feedback and track satisfaction with the wellness program.
  • Absence & Substitute Management from Frontline Education provided an easy way to track employee absence rates and find trends.

He found that the program was having amazing positive effects on retention, employee absences, district spending and employee health.

Here’s just a few of the results he found:

  • Total absenteeism rates decreased by 16 percent, and absences due to illness decreased by 30 percent
  • 63 percent of employees exercised more regularly and 49 percent changed their eating habits
  • Health insurance claims decreased — especially high-cost claims
  • Retention rates for first-year teachers went from 69 percent to 86 percent in one year


Want to delve even deeper into the story behind Emporia’s wildly successful wellness program?

 Read the rest of the story

Annie GrunwellAnnie Buttner

Annie is a writer and part of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She's passionate about learning, exploring data and sharing knowledge. Her specialties include substitute management, the K-12 staffing shortage, and best practices in human capital management.