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Being a Community Leader in the Fight Against Cancer

BJsStoryImageLaura Sen believes that as a CEO, she is uniquely positioned to positively influence both her employees and people in the wider community to make smarter choices about their health and potentially prevent cancer. Having an influential voice in the community allows her to promote causes that she believes in, including promoting healthy living and supporting the fight against cancer. Sen leads her 25,000 team members from Maine to Florida in efforts to make smarter lifestyle choices and support the American Cancer Society’s prevention and research programs.

“Health is a win-win for our company and our club members,” said Sen, who has been BJ’s CEO since 2009. Headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts, BJ’s is a membership warehouse club that sells a variety of products to 2.5 million members at more than 200 locations. For several years, BJ’s team members and management team have supported American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer® events through teams, as well as donating to the Society through voluntary payroll deductions.

Supporting breast cancer research has long been a priority for Sen and her team members at BJ’s. Team members participate in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in the Boston area.

Since 2010, BJ’s has gradually implemented a variety of workplace wellness programs to help team members lead healthier lives. “It’s clear to me that getting team members to make that connection and address manageable health conditions is important,” said Sen, who practices yoga in her spare time. Wellness efforts at BJ’s include three areas of focus: physical activity, weight management, and tobacco cessation.

BJ’s provides a free tobacco cessation program. This evidence-based approach is geared to help participants increase their motivation to quit, learn effective approaches for quitting, and guide them in making a successful quit attempt. To remove any obstacles to quitting, the company’s health plan pays the full cost of nicotine replacement therapy and prescription drugs. More than 450 team members have signed up for the program, and BJ’s became a completely smoke-free workplace at the end of 2012, Sen said.

Other workplace wellness programs include a walking challenge with 30 percent participation among team members, Zumba and yoga fitness classes, and on-site weight management programs. Sen said she was able to see how this was impacting her team members when a female employee who had lost 30 pounds through the program ran into Sen one day, hugged her and said, “I lost 30 pounds, and it was all because of you!” The employee said she was much happier and appreciated the help she got from the company, said Sen, adding that team members nationwide logged more than 160,000 hours of walking.

Changing health-related behaviors is one of the hardest things for people to do successfully, Sen acknowledged. “It’s hard to change! And as we continue to evolve our health care program, all of the concepts behind them are making individuals better consumers of health care, and more aware of health care costs,” she said.

Leading a company-wide effort to get healthier is something Sen sees as a personal priority. “The key concepts are awareness, education, and communication. Other members of management need to have awareness so everyone connects the dots about how we live, how we work, and how healthy we will be,” she said. Workplace wellness programs have a good return on investment, said Sen. “Lifestyle choices contribute to wellness and also relate to overall levels of cancer.”

As a major retailer of food products, Sen is aware that it is a challenge to convince some consumers to opt for healthier choices, but she sees the trend growing. “Ten years ago, we didn’t know what agave syrup or quinoa were, and now they are very popular. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to get healthier as a society,” she said.

BJ’s has been a member of the American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer® program since 2012. “It’s a very worthwhile choice as a leader to have a voice in this space,” said Sen of the program. She sees her involvement with the Society as a natural extension of her company’s deep commitment to community service and healthy families.

BJ’s will continue to support workplace wellness programs to enable more team members to make positive lifestyle changes, and make them stick, she said.