Each month at South Motors Automotive Group in Miami, employees focus on a different aspect of their health.

Depending on the time of year, the dealership group’s 1,200 staff members could be participating in voluntary wellness programs that target cardiovascular health, stress relief, diabetes, eating disorders or a gamut of other activities designed to improve their overall well-being.

“It makes a difference to them and has made a difference in their lives,” said South Motors CEO Jonathan Chariff.

The group has 10 rooftops in South Florida and retails six brands — BMW, Ford, Honda, Infiniti, Mini and Volkswagen. It sold about 20,000 new and used vehicles in 2019.

One of the group’s most popular wellness programs is a diet challenge in which individuals and teams compete to lose weight. As part of the incentive, South Motors gives out about $30,000 to winning participants throughout the entire company each year. The largest prize awarded to an individual was $3,500, Chariff said.

“Everybody has an opportunity to truly participate and, at the same time, work on their health,” he explained.

Lower costs

The calendar of wellness activities was put in place in 2014 through a partnership with Sapoznik Insurance, an employee benefits agency that negotiates health insurance rates for businesses such as auto dealerships and then helps to stabilize those rates through wellness initiatives.

Sapoznik’s in-house wellness team conducts preliminary checkups and gathers biometrics to determine which health issues, such as high blood pressure, dealership employees may be struggling with most. Once they have collected certain health statistics, the team creates customized programs for the year.

“If we can help save money on the claims side by getting them healthier, we’re accomplishing so many things,” said Rachel Sapoznik, CEO of Sapoznik Insurance, who began marketing the wellness programs to dealerships and other businesses when she started the agency in 1987.

“They’re going to spend less money on health care. They’re going to be healthier, and the car dealerships are more profitable,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody, but the most important thing is that we’re paying attention to people’s health.”

Through the effort, spearheaded by Sapoz-nik’s wellness team and South Motors’ human resources department, the dealership group has increased employee engagement while reducing its overall health care costs.

“Industrywide for the last four years, you’ll see the average national medical costs have gone up about 5.5 percent in each calendar year — in 2017, then in 2018 and in 2019,” Chariff said.

“My understanding is for 2020 they’re estimating a 6 to 10 percent increase in annualized costs for the health benefits.”

South Motors had a decrease of 8.2 percent in its premiums in 2019, according to the agency.

“In 2020, we’re not seeing an increase at all,” Chariff said. “We’re seeing extra benefits coming back from the carriers because of our performance.”

With the coronavirus pandemic, health and wellness are still top priorities for both Sapoznik and South Motors, but many of the activities have changed “dramatically,” they said. Florida, including Miami-Dade County, has been a hotbed of COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 changes

“I created a virtual wellness portal, so all of the car dealerships and pretty much all my clients have access to three live classes a day that we organize,” said Sapoznik, adding that South Motors’ employees also have access to the portal. Classes include nutrition, cooking, meditation, kickboxing and yoga.

The pandemic also has meant no one-on-one or group wellness meetings at South Motors, which implemented safety protocols across the group such as mask requirements for customers and employees, disinfecting vehicles, at-home test drives, vehicle pickup and delivery and online sales.

Instead, South Motors has been sending newsletters to employees about health and wellness in addition to the virtual offerings. But Chariff said the group is still exploring how to better engage employees while also maintaining social distance.

“It’s a day-by-day basis,” he said. “Better understanding, listening, talking to others about their best practices and to be able to share what you learned from others and experiment within your own dealer group.”