November 1, 2012

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Lead by Example

Effective Wellness Programs Start at the Top

Peri Kinder

November 1, 2012

Want to motivate your employees to take charge of their health and wellness? You may want to start by motivating yourself. After all, not too many employees are going to buy into a wellness program if they don’t see the commitment from top execs.

“You never know when your good example will start another person on the path to fitness,” says Dave Sherwin, owner and CEO of Escape the Matrix and EZ Wellness. Sherwin is a nationally competitive triathlete and nutritionist who creates and sells wellness products.

Although fitness is a big part of his life now, that wasn’t always the case.

“As a younger person, I took health for granted,” Sherwin says. But when he turned 40, he didn’t want to become one of the millions of overweight people in the country, so he started lifting weights, burning fat and feeling more energized than he had for years. A friend talked him into racing a sprint distance triathlon—and he was hooked.

“I’d been looking for a different thing to do and what could be better than swimming, biking and running?” he says. “I got a bike and although I hated running, I started running; and I couldn’t swim but I started swimming.”

Sherwin encourages CEOs to not only preach the benefits of health but to set an example to employees. He displays his racing medals and numbers from each of his triathlons, and even has a three-generation photo of him, his father and his son at an event they all competed in.

A Fit Culture
By creating a culture that promotes wellness, CEOs can set the tone by being supportive and flexible when it comes to the employees. “Who wrote the rules that you’re supposed to start the day at 9 a.m. and work until 5 p.m.?” Sherwin asks. “Most people at 10 a.m. are burned out mentally. They could go a treadmill and work out for 30 minutes.”

Sherwin believes the example set by CEOs trickles down and influences the day-to-day atmosphere in the workplace. As employees get healthier and feel better, productivity and overall morale improves while insurance premiums drop. Promoting and organizing wellness options could be just the push your employees need to jump-start a healthy lifestyle.

But getting a CEO to buy into a wellness initiative can be a struggle. Emma Crandall, GBS Benefits wellness services director, works with Utah companies, convincing employers that creating a healthy work environment is a win-win for everyone involved.

“From a business perspective, a CEO needs to see his investment is getting him something,” she says. “The return on investment isn’t immediate and we’re in a society where we need immediate gratification. In three to five years from now, they’ll see their return. Wellness is not something we do to the employee. It’s something we do with them and for them.”

Crandall is adamant that CEOs take the lead when it comes to health by creating a wellness committee or even hiring a part-time wellness director. Getting employees invested in the program raises the chances of more people being involved.

Additionally, many employers are tying wellness campaigns to insurance benefits. There’s a much higher chance that employees will participate if they are guaranteed a drop in insurance premiums.

The Starting Line
A good place to start is to contact an insurance broker and set up health screenings. Preventative screenings for high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes and body fat percentage gives the wellness committee a benchmark when setting goals for the company. And for employees who are worried their boss will see their results, Crandall says that never happens—confidentiality is strictly enforced so employers only get aggregate results.

Fitness is a big part of a health plan and encouraging employees to move during the day helps stress levels drop while providing creative interaction. A recent study found that people who sit for 11 hours a day or more increase their chances of dying over the next three years by 40 percent—regardless of their other levels of physical activity.

“Life is a personal development project and each of us is our own greatest project,” says Sherwin. “Whether that’s our health or our relationships or our emotional health, each of us need to be students of living an exceptional life.”                                 

12 Tips for Creating a Healthy Business Environment

  1. Start a walking group where employees walk for 15 minutes, twice a day
  2. Provide health and fitness magazines in the break room
  3. Participate in or organize a 5K to support a charity
  4. Have a blood pressure cuff in the break room and teach employees how to check their pressure
  5. Take stretching breaks during the day
  6. Provide a bowl of fruit or vegetables for breaks
  7. Support employees in doing fitness challenges outside of work
  8. Create a smoke-free workplace and offer cessation programs
  9. Have a “no sugar” policy for business meetings
  10. Create team fitness competitions between divisions
  11. Use a healthy catering service to provide meals for business lunches
  12. Offer reimbursement for gym memberships
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