Tips on Improving Corporate Health & Fitness

Employers can and should encourage healthy lifestyles from their employees. It not only improves their productivity which is good for the company, it DIRECTLY saves health care costs!

An amazing study just came out of Duke University. The study looked at workers’ compensation data for 11,728 Duke University employees who received health-risk appraisals over a seven-year period.

What were the results for obese employees (compared to those who are not obese) as published in the Journal of Internal Medicine?

* Obese employees filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims

* Obese employees’ medical costs from those claims were seven times higher

* Obese employees stayed out of work 13 times longer after a work-related injury or illness

* Obese employees medical claims cost per 100 employees per year was 51,019 USD compared to $7,503 USD for non-obese workers

* Obese employees lost 183 days of work per 100 employees as compared to 14 days for non-obese workers (that’s 13 times more!)

Yeah but those guys were OBESE. Well it doesn’t look good for the overweight/mildly obese either…

* Overweight employees took four times the number of days off after being injured or getting sick at work.

* Mildly obese employees took five times as many days off after being injured or getting sick at work.

And what are employers doing? The study reveals that…

“As many as 40 percent of employers are giving workers products, cash or health insurance discounts to lose weight,” said Laura Linnan, the study’s principal investigator and a professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health.

Employers are getting scared off as well. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, assistant professor of medicine and health economist at Stanford University co-authored a 2005 study that showed employers compensate for anticipated higher medical costs of obese workers by paying them less than slimmer employees and passing them over for promotions.

What are we gathering from this?

Being fat is bad for employees (that’s most of us) because it costs us in terms of career advancement and money, and its bad for employers because its affecting their profit margins when they pay for all these health costs.

Simple problem yes, simple to fix, not quite. We need to approach this troubling issue with a corporate fitness solution. 3 things that employers must do…

1. Adopt a fitness culture starting from the CEO knowing that it is best for the company

“We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isn’t solely a personal medical problem — it spills over into the workplace and has concrete economic costs,” Dr. Truls Ostbye -author and professor of community and family medicine.

Well, if its not a personal or private medical problem then it becomes a community problem. That means the problem is larger, but the solution is also more permanent. Community solutions just work better. They work for gang violence and for addiction to vices. From my experiences as a fitness professional, community solutions work for health goals as well. Kickboxing, pilates, yoga, aerobics and other fitness classes or group activities have a higher penetration rate (about 12-15% in most health clubs) than personal training (2-3%). I believe that people stay on longer in group classes as well.

A community solution to corporate fitness has to be built into the company culture. Usually this is dictated by a CEO or a board of directors. If they are reading this article they are probably aware of the health challenges facing companies in this day and age. They are also probably aware that companies which have an adaptive culture that is able to handle changing circumstances tend to do really really well. 2-3 times as well profit-wise according to some studies. In addition, setting a fitness culture shows concern for employees (and allows them to be more productive) and in the long run costs less than paying for medical bills. As a minor side note, your employees will look healthy too and that in itself has its own host of benefits.

Once the CEO has decided that a fitness culture is needed and is in fact the course that the company needs to take, he can implement it in the same way he makes most culture changes.

* Align your company culture with your strategic goals (being fit saves money, makes your employees more productive and more attractive to customers, and increases profit)

* Develop a specific action plan that can leverage the good things in your current culture and correct the unaligned areas. (free employee breakfasts on Fridays may be good, but making it doughnuts and pancakes is BAD)

* Brainstorm improvements in your formal policies and daily practices. (allocate some work time to fitness and health education and activities, ensure managers lead by example, bringing healthy food into the cafeteria, allow 15 min breaks during work for healthy snacks)

* Develop models of the desired actions and behaviors. (how many hours a week minimum that an employee must exercise, social support and encouragement to make healthy eating not just acceptable but preferable, all management staff must enthusiastically take part)

* Communicate the new corporate fitness culture to all employees (tell everybody about it)

* Over-communicate the new corporate fitness culture and its actions to everyone. (tell everybody about it again and again, with checks to ensure that the new culture is followed)

Remember, often people don’t do what you EXPECT. They do what you INSPECT.

2. Look for a professional you can trust

A respected fitness professional is a real asset to a corporation. Think about it. Companies get accounting firms to do their accounts and taxes, they get law firms to do their legal documents, and they get business consultants to check their business processes. So is it a big stretch to think that they should get a fitness professional to take care of company health and fitness?

Not at all. The best fitness pros will know how to approach corporate fitness. They will be able to advise on the set up of health facilities, run fitness classes, be good public speakers on more general topics like nutrition, and be able to give individual training programs for more difficult cases of extreme obesity or employees with past injuries and medical conditions.

3. Only accept success

No CEO would accept sub-standard work by an employee, neither would they accept failure on important projects, they wouldn’t accept a lack of integrity with regard to finance either. Shouldn’t this be the case with the company fitness program?

Like I mentioned in point 1, this new program has to be enforced. It’s a kind of “tough love” that needs to happen. Hey Mr. CEO…take attendance at fitness classes, walk around the cafeteria at lunch to see what people are eating, do your managers speak as positively and motivationally about the fitness program as they do about meeting project deadlines?

There are only good things that can come out of a corporation that has a fitness focus. Corporate fitness has come a long way. I do know of companies that have gyms and health facilities for their staff.

But as usual we need to look for the person before we provide the place and the program. In this case there are 2 people. The fearless CEO with a vision and the fitness professional who can deliver the results.