In part 1 of this blog, I went on a bit about the dangers of sitting and then began to describe NIFS’s Fit-It-In program offered by Kathy, one of our managers at a client site. We’re proud to share that Kathy’s initiative, a collaboration with her client, was a large part of the reason her client was able to win the American Heart Association’s Fit-Friendly Company Platinum Designation and the Workplace Innovation Award in 2013.
Fit-It-In was conceived to help her associates combat sitting disease. While the program itself is creative and well thought out, the most compelling element (and probably the single biggest contributor to the program’s success) was Kathy’s effective outreach to mid-level managers for their support of the initiative.
We knew Kathy was successful at achieving supervisor support when we got this data back from a participant survey: The pre-program survey revealed that 70% of associates felt they had the support of their immediate supervisor to participate in programs that would improve their health; however, by the end of the program that number had improved to 96%.
Below I outline some of the key elements of Fit-It-In as well as some important lessons learned. I also share the compelling data that screams “effective employee health program.”
Bringing Fit-It-In to the Masses
After Kathy garnered the support she needed from executive leadership and mid-level managers at her client location, she set about launching Fit-It-In. With the help of the wellness team at her site, she was able to purchase a fitness band with handles for each associate in that office. Then she started educating the masses on how to use their new band. Through one-on-one meetings in the fitness center, speaking at department meetings, hosting exercise breaks (“flash mobs”), and providing handouts and other literature (which was regularly changed and updated throughout the program) in strategic areas of the building, she was able to reach most of the associate audience more than one time.
Following an educational blitz, Kathy continued her efforts to be routinely visible for the associates both in the client’s onsite fitness center promoting short, 15-minute workouts, and at department meetings. She facilitated stretch breaks, walking groups, and other simple opportunities for associates to infuse some physical activity into their otherwise sedentary day.
Capturing Health Promotion Success in Numbers
If you read part 1 of this blog, you’ll recall that I described this program as “conceptually simple.” It is. The elements I’ve mentioned are the types of services being offered by corporate health professionals all over the country on a regular basis. What is unique about Fit-It-In is the level of managerial support Kathy garnered as well as the rigorous data she kept throughout the program.
Kathy started with a pre-program survey that captured information such as this:
- How many hours per day are you sedentary?
- Have you maintained consistent workouts in the past month?
- Do you feel that you have the support of your manager to maintain your health through amenities and services available at work?
As the program progressed, she surveyed associates monthly to find out if they were participating in Fit-It-In activities, and if so, how often they were engaging in specific elements of the program. Here’s what we learned:
- Within the first four months of launching Fit-It-In, the percentage of associates participating in any activity over the course of the month increased 34%.
- The percentage of associates who completed the Fit-It-In band exercises at their desks three to four days per week increased 42%.
- In the first four months of the program, 33% more associates were walking at work at least five times per week.
The data goes on, and on, and on. As I said, Kathy surveys participants monthly to track progress and to continually evaluate opportunities to fine-tune and improve the program.
Program Costs and Lessons Learned
It’s important to note that while this was an uncomplicated program, it wasn’t free. I’ve outlined basic program costs here:
- Fitness band for 600 associates @ $5/band = $3,000
- Monthly prize @ $200 per prize = $2,400
- Monthly stairwell challenge @ $50 per month = $300
- Presentation board, prepping walking routes, and other miscellaneous supplies = $200
- Estimated 12-month total = $5,900
Every well-executed program comes with some lessons learned. When I talked to Kathy about this, here’s what she told me:
- Providing associates with multiple quick exercise/activities, not just one option, was integral to reaching the needs of a varied workforce. Some activities, like the fitness band use and stairwell challenges, worked well for call center associates, while outdoor and indoor walking routes were popular for those who could take more time.
- We can’t say it enough: middle management buy-in is essential to changing culture. Without the rally meeting sponsored by human resources where management could hear Kathy make the case for the importance of this initiative and provide their feedback, she would not have had the success we saw with the year-long offering.
- One key subtle difference between this program and others like it is that Kathy incentivized associates reporting their activity instead of offering prizes for completing the activity. Ongoing self reporting required associates to log into a survey tool and answer questions. By doing so each month, they were eligible for a valuable (typically around $200) monthly prize drawing.
Contact us to learn more about this program or the other services NIFS provides to our clients. If you’re looking for key strategies to engage your workforce, check out our whitepaper on the topic.
We sit. Frankly, we sit a lot. We sit at home, we sit on our commutes, we sit at work, we sit during our child’s after-school activities. Sit, sit, sit. And it’s not doing us any favors, either. In fact, recent startling statistics indicate that sitting may be a significant threat to our overall wellbeing.
Before you write this off as one of those “it can’t be that bad” indicators, consider these statistics. There are even more (if you need more convincing) in this compelling infographic.
- Sitting six hours a day increases your risk of death by 40% over someone who sits less than three hours.
- Between 1980 and 2000, exercise rates remained the same, but sitting time increased 8% and obesity doubled.
- People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as people who stand for work.
And to those of you who say that sitting disease is really a problem only for people who don’t work out, think again. Data shows that prolonged sitting can negate some of the benefits you receive from regular exercise. Let me just say it one more time: How often we sit is a problem.
NIFS’s Fit-It-In Gets Results in Combating Sitting
So there it is: sitting is our great nemesis. If you’ve been wracking your brain for strategies that actually combat the gravitational pull to a chair, look no further. Below is an outline for one of NIFS’s award-winning programs, Fit-It-In, with real results that can be implemented in any worksite health setting.
But before I get into program specifics, I need to say that if you don’t have built-in strategies for evaluating your programs, you’ll want to be sure you establish that basic infrastructure in order to determine whether your efforts at combating sitting disease are actually working. For more on how NIFS evaluates our programs, read this blog. After all, without effective evaluation strategies, you can’t get fantastic data like this: Before Fit-It-In started, 100% of associates polled indicated they were sedentary at least four hours per day. By the end of the program, only 8% of associates polled indicated that they were sedentary four or more hours per day.
In the Beginning
This conceptually simple and highly effective program, called Fit-It-In, is the brainchild of one of NIFS’s managers, Kathy Douglas. Kathy manages a corporate fitness center for NIFS at a client where there is a lot of sitting. She, like most of us in worksite health promotion, had been following the news coming out in the last few years about the dangers of sitting and felt compelled to address this for the associates she serves.
She knew that if she could just get them into the fitness center, she could help them, even with small breaks in the day, to feel better and to gradually improve their health. But she was up against (1) individual inertia, and (2) a corporate culture for productivity that kept associates in their seats.
After much research, discussion with leadership at her client location, and careful outlining of the program’s goals and objectives, she launched Fit-It-In. The primary goal of the program was to help improve associate health and engagement by providing them with an efficient and convenient method of fitting in more physical activity throughout their workday.
Fighting Inertia to Improve Employee Health
Kathy knew she had a lot of work to do to reach the 500+ associates at her location with a message about moving more, and she was certain that focusing on getting them into the fitness center was going to be met with significant resistance. So she brought exercise to the associates and incorporated a variety of simple opportunities/events through which associates could engage in movement-oriented activities without having to truly work out.
Program features included the following:
- Fitness bands to all associates
- Online workout and stretching documents
- Indoor and outdoor walking routes
- Motivational stairwell challenges
- Fitness band exercise challenge of the month
- “15-2-Fit” 15-minute workout cards available in the fitness center
- 5-Minute Flash Mob fitness band exercise events
- “YES You Can―Fit-It-In” informational kiosk
- Monthly grand-prize drawing
Pretty great list of services in the initiative, right? Well, here’s the thing: Kathy knew (she’s been with this client for five years) that unless she was able to get support from mid-level managers, this initiative would flop, no matter how creative, relevant, simple, or potentially impactful it was.
Engaging Managers to Support Employee Exercise
Truly, this is what sets this program apart from others. Kathy spent a significant amount of front-end time with managers in the organization talking with them about Fit-It-In: how it would benefit their productivity goals as well as the health of their department members. She also sought buy-in from the executive leadership in her location so that the mid-level managers would know they had the support they needed to get Fit-It-In off the ground in their division.
Easy enough. On to the next steps, right? Unfortunately, it took a lot of effort on Kathy’s part to overcome managers’ resistance to allowing their employees to move for five minutes during a meeting, or at each hourly bell. There were significant concerns in some areas about productivity and department goals being compromised because employees would not be 100% focused on work 100% of the time.
It’s a common hurdle, but it’s not commonly overcome. Kathy was able to gain a lot of traction with these supervisors by presenting Fit-It-In jointly with Human Resources. She engaged the managers in conversation at the end of the presentation to listen to their concerns and other feedback. Kathy added elements to the initiative in response to those discussions and ultimately was able to remove most of the identified barriers to generate a win-win message.
If you want to read about how Kathy was able to go from 100% of associates reporting that they were sedentary for four or more hours to just 8% indicating that they were sedentary for four or more hours each day, you won’t want to miss part 2 of this blog. We’ll dig into the data, as well as offer an overview on how the program was implemented. I’ll also outline some of our key lessons learned.
Pardon me while I use our blog to rant. It doesn't happen often, but apparently there was no amount of pounding the pavement (aka running) that was going to get this out of my head. Lacking other healthy tools to cope with very bad corporate wellness practice, I'm turning to the blog to pound it out on the keyboard. You should stop reading if you don't care about employee engagement, human capital, and ROI in corporate wellness. Shamelessly, this blog is more for me than it is for you.
Ok - disclaimer provided. Here we go.
There's so much buzz around corporate wellness, it's dizzying. Who can keep track of all the apps, gadgets, providers, platforms, and statistics in employee health promotion?! We're too busy helping people make better choices to keep track of this stuff. Thus, I join other organizations who provide me with updates in the industry periodically; it takes the burden off me feeling like I always have to be search, search, searching for what's up and coming.
It all started with an email.
So the other day I got an email, much like many other emails, in which a promotion around employee engagement was being peddled. You get these emails, I know you do. This one, in particular, was from a well-known clearinghouse of resources for corporate wellness professionals, and my hunch is that they have a HUGE reach across the US. Provider organizations pay to be promoted by via email to the membership list for this "clearinghouse organization".
Let me be clear - I'm not begrudging the organization who sent me the email, or the provider company who paid to reach my inbox. (Though I do feel a little sorry for both who may not know the painful truth about outbound marketing.) The marketing message in that email, however, is at best suspect, and at worst, completely misleading and disingenuous to the hard fought, small gain work that is employee health promotion.
This was the focus of the marketing email - the vendor was offering their product/service and promoting that they had the key ingredient for employee engagement. Maybe they do (it's kind of the silver bullet in corporate wellness...who knows, maybe this group has it all figured out). But to promote it in a way that engagement from employees is something you go "get", that it's algebraic or formulary, that there is something you simply add to your corporate wellness strategy recipe, is completely off the mark. You don't add a vendor, a worksite fitness center, a health coach, or change a policy about flex time and BAM! Engagement! (Cue triumphant music.)
No, ladies and gentlemen, absolutely not. The battle for employee engagement in corporate health promotion is won in relationships and over time, and with the evolution of trust and loyalty in the workplace. Offering biometric screenings and cool online HRA that gives you a personal wellness score isn't enough. An onsite fitness center isn't enough. (Believe me... for NIFS business, I wish it was!) And you can't buy your way into the hearts of your employees with trinkets and trips, and other incentives.
If you want engagement in your workforce around your corporate wellness initiatives, you start with relationships. You have to work at it by working with your workforce to understand them, their needs, their fears, their hopes. You have to give a little, learn a little, and step out on that relationship-building edge a little.
(I feel a sappy song coming on, so I'll wrap it up here.)
You want your workforce to engage? Treat them like people, get your head out of the corporate wellness ROI clouds, and for crying out loud, quit referring to your workforce as "Human Capital".
Want to confess...I mean comment on this post? Have an entirely different point of view? Share it below. Maybe it'll be the start of a beautiful relationship!
This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.
(This blog is the second of two parts outlining some basic alternative views to ROI.)
In Part 1, I came out and said it. Corporate wellness isn't all about ROI - it's about people, about doing the right thing, treating people right, making it easier for employees to choose better health.
So onto the second consideration...the intangibles, the things we cannot measure, but that have unlimited value.
A call center employee has never exercised, but when she starts with your company, she ventures into the onsite fitness center to take a look. She makes a connection with the compassionate staff and within a few weeks of her hire date, she starts exercising in your fitness center. One year later, she is 15 pounds lighter, free from depression medication, and getting better sleep each night. She has less out-of-pocket expense (measureable), the company is paying less for her health care (measureable), and she is more productive for and loyal to your organization for the support she received in the corporate fitness center (unquantifiable).
The middle manager has smoked for years. Lacking the confidence to stop on his own, he enters your worksite program and finds success with the support of free nicotine replacement therapy, group cessation classes at work, and the collaborative support from the corporate fitness staff. He swapped his costly nicotine habit for daily 30-minute walks. He is free from the routine cost of buying cigarettes (measurable), the company doesn’t carry the extra cost burden associated with employees who use tobacco (measureable), and his heart health, confidence, and outlook on life are forever changed (unquantifiable).
Value is in the eye of the beholder. Create an environment that encourages employees to participate, and your investment will come back to you—not through an algorithm, but in testimonials.
Have a testimonial to share about the ways your employer has supported your efforts to choose better health? Tell us about it!
This blog was written by Bethany Garrity. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.
(This blog is the first of two parts outlining some basic alternative views to ROI.)
The thing about ROI and corporate wellness is, well, it's tricky. Don't believe me? Ask the experts. Go to Steve Aldana or Ron Goetzel, the well-recognized and well-respected leaders in ROI-related research connected with corporate wellness. They’ll tell you that accurately calculating ROI can be done, but that it is very hard to do it the right way. What’s worse is that attempting to isolate ROI for a specific element of your company’s wellness strategy may prove even more elusive.
There are so many variables in worksite wellness that it takes significant resources and substantial practice to have any confidence in the ROI figures that might be generated from your program. Trying to ferret out specific ROI by wellness program components, like the fitness center, is nearly impossible. Expecting ROI may set up your corporate fitness center for failure.
Try looking at your investment with a different lens.
Measure what you can by capturing all the data you can and then looking at all sides of it to determine what is happening for your organization as you shift the health culture.
How much money do you save every time someone lowers (or gets off) of their blood pressure, diabetes, or cholesterol-lowering medication? Start your corporate fitness program by assessing how many members are on those medications. In year 3, 5, and 10, figure out how many of those who started the program in year 1 are now off those medications.
How much money do you spend on employee turnover annually? Poll your workforce to find out how many feel added loyalty to your organization because of the well-equipped and staffed corporate fitness center.
Return doesn't haven't to be all about the money - there's much more to investing in employee health. We believe it's about the people...what do you believe?