Taking Steps toward a Healthy Lifestyle: The Efforts of Barbara Hudson

September 13, 2018


Not all Atlanta Fed employees know Barbara Hudson, but they are all quite familiar with her impact on their lifestyles.

Hudson, who spent most of her 18 years at the Atlanta Fed as a Human Resources professional, has spearheaded a host of initiatives that enhanced health and wellness benefits for employees across the Federal Reserve's Sixth District, which includes the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Because of her efforts, hundreds of Atlanta Fed staffers now have adjustable desks that allow them to work while sitting or standing. Healthier food options are now a staple in the employee cafeteria. And staffers have a financial incentive to obtain annual physical examinations.

Go big or go home

"My philosophy is 'go big or go home,' " Hudson said in explaining her efforts to broaden the Bank's wellness programs. "I'd rather work down than start at the midpoint when I could have gotten more." She also credits the support she receives from the Atlanta Fed's health and wellness workgroup she chairs as well as from senior Bank leadership.

photo portrait of Barbara Hudson
The Atlanta Fed's Barbara Hudson. Photo by David Fine

"There are so many here who are in a better place because of the work she has done," said Joan Buchanan, vice president and general auditor at the Atlanta Fed. Staffers have greatly benefited from the wellness initiatives Hudson initiated and have discovered allergies and other serious health conditions they were unaware of, Buchanan added.

Hudson's time at the Atlanta Fed—a second career following more than 20 years as a military spouse—has always involved planning, organizing, and providing services for staff, including annual recognition programs such as the retiree lunch and Thanksgiving holiday meal. So when she formally became the Bank's official wellness guru six years ago, it was a natural extension of her duties.

Making sure the Bank's wellness offerings address employees' health vulnerabilities was a vital goal for Hudson. She pored over data to identify the medical conditions that accounted for most health care claim costs. "Everything we do focuses on the top five chronic conditions that face our staff," Hudson said.

Walking the walk

As she began charting a path to better wellness for the Atlanta Fed, Hudson decided to pay closer attention to her own physical fitness. She shed more than 60 pounds from 2009 to 2012 and has kept the weight off. She also began educating herself, obtaining various health certifications and becoming a facilitator with the American Cancer Society's smoking cessation program. "If I was going to try to engage staff in participating in wellness, I needed to be on that journey with them," Hudson said.

An earlier job assignment—managing the employee cafeteria—paved the way for her wellness work. After looking at menu offerings, expenses, and other aspects of the operation, Hudson pinpointed potential cost reductions and assisted in a cafeteria redesign. The salad bar expanded its fresh and healthy options, enabling the Bank to reduce costs on prepared items. She also led the cafeteria's efforts to become more energy efficient and was instrumental in the development of a separate LEED-certified coffee shop. (LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.)

"We started a lot of new things because we were able to see cost savings and areas where money could be spent elsewhere to provide better staff services," said Hudson, whose work at the cafeteria earned her the President's Award, the Bank's highest employee honor.

Zeroing in on details to identify areas of waste or redundancy is Hudson's strong suit, a trait she credits to her military background. A self-described Air Force brat, she moved regularly and developed a use-it-or-lose-it attitude toward possessions. Later on, Hudson was an Army wife and lived 13 years in Southeast Asia, where her former spouse was assigned.

Those who work with Hudson note her persistence, reliability, and genuine concern for others. "She makes things happen," said Semi Lee, a senior business analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Human Resources Department. "She's had such an influence on the culture, helping to make the Bank more personable."

Fitness clubs and education

At one time, the Atlanta Fed's wellness initiatives were limited to flu shots for staffers and a handful of fitness classes. Under Hudson's leadership, those options have expanded greatly. The Bank's wellness program now includes periodic educational sessions on various health and nutrition topics, CPR and first aid training, a broader array of exercise classes, and employee fitness challenges. Hudson also enhanced the existing Weight Watchers at Work program.

In 2014, the Atlanta Fed launched FedFit clubs, in which groups of employees focus on a specific lifestyle improvement. Today, FedFit clubs are devoted to cycling, golf, healthy eating, mountain hiking, running, tennis, and walking.

As word of the Atlanta Fed's health initiatives has spread, Hudson has become a go-to person for wellness throughout the Federal Reserve System. For instance, the Stairwell Project, a Hudson-inspired initiative that features messages printed on stairwell walls to encourage fitness and mobility, has attracted the interest of other Reserve Banks as well as the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The stairwell walls are painted different colors, highlighting the messages.

Soon, Hudson will embrace another lifestyle change. She plans to retire in February 2019 and devote more time to a favored charity and her daughter. Many agree her shoes will be hard to fill.

"The life improvement that Barbara Hudson has brought to so many of us is her legacy, and it is a great one," said Buchanan.

photo of Karen Jacobs
Karen Jacobs

Staff writer for Economy Matters

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