When her work schedule permits, state employee Lisa Clark heads for a Frankfort fitness club and extends her lunch hour by 30 minutes, following a policy that allows staff at the Department of Financial Institutions to exercise on paid time.
Clark, 49, said the exercise time has proved so beneficial that she hasn't had to go to the doctor for her low back pain and fibromyalgia — a condition marked by body-wide pain and tender points — 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."
The Department of Financial Institutions is one of at least four state agencies that offer employees the opportunity to get fit while getting paid. Other agencies with paid-exercise programs include the Department of Military Affairs, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Personnel Cabinet.
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Rules for using the benefit vary among agencies. Some workers are limited to 90 minutes of paid exercise per week, while others can exercise up to five hours a week while on the clock. On any given day, employees can exercise from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on which agency they work for.
All employees must get a supervisor's approval, which is supposed to be given only if the workload on a given day allows.
It's not known exactly how many state workers make use of the benefit. Since individual supervisors are charged with tracking how their employees use the program, centralized records on the number of participants aren't kept, officials said.
Still, officials say they're confident the physical fitness policies are cost effective.
"A wellness break is just like any other break time," said Crystal Pryor, spokeswoman for the Personnel Cabinet. "The difference is that this break results 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 pointed to a Harvard University study published in 2010 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."
Clark is one of three employees in her department who exercise on paid time, as she has done since the program began in her department in 2009. At one point, 10 employees were in the program, said spokesman Dick Brown.
"If I go work out, I think it's not going to cost near as much as doctor visits and X-rays," Clark said.
At least one other state, some universities and some city governments have similar policies that allow employees to exercise while being paid.
Montana allows employees two 15-minute exercise periods daily, said Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives.
As in Kentucky, the time cannot be used to offset coming in late or leaving early, Scott said.
Personnel Cabinet employees, if approved by their supervisor, can use up to 30 minutes of work time a day for exercise, with a limit of 90 minutes per week.
Pryor estimates that less than 20 Personnel Cabinet employees participate in the program, and of those 20, not all fully utilize the policy. Some participants only use the time once or twice a month, she said.
The Department of Financial Institutions allows employees to exercise on paid time for up to 150 minutes per week. Time used to travel to and from the exercise site is included in the total. Employees must sign in and sign out before and after the exercise.
"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."
Lisa Aug, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said at Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard, 161 out of 165 employees have participated in the exercise program at least once. In warmer months, up to 74 of the 165 employees participate at any given time, she said.
Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore has 375 employees. An undocumented number of them use up to three hours per week to walk on the grounds or to the town of Wilmore, and to use the exercise equipment donated for their use in an unused room in the facility, Aug said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' policy for the exercise program notes that "serving veterans through all of our programs shall always take priority."
The Department of Military Affairs has the most liberal exercise policy, allowing one hour of exercise each day or five hours each week on state time.
Between 20 to 25 percent of the department's 720 employees take part in the program, though rarely to the full extent, said spokesman David Altom.
"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.
Civilians and military personnel work side by side and are expected to be equally physically fit, he said.
"The payback," he said, is in "productivity and morale."