Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Bethany Garrity

Recent Posts by Bethany Garrity:

Does Your Senior Living Community Wellness Program Foster Ageism?

Several months ago, I listened to an interview on NPR with Ron Christie. He talked about working with President George W. Bush, who pressed the idea of combating the soft bigotry of low expectations when it came to the achievement gap for kids in schools. Turns out, the soft bigotry of low expectations is alive and well in all sorts of domains in this country, including how we view the abilities of older adults.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

NIFS | Playing FrisbeeOne of the challenges that wellness program leaders in senior living communities must overcome is making sweeping assumptions about the abilities of their audience. And it's no easy task. I am in communities across the country on a regular basis where I'm routinely surprised by the stories I hear from residents about how enthusiastically they're living their lives right now. Shame on me. After more than a decade of doing this work, I am still amazed at how vibrant my elders can be. That amazement, though positive and delighting, is rooted in my ageist assumptions that older adults somehow cannot or should not live with the same enthusiasm that I choose for myself. It is representative of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Whether or not you can see these ageist assumptions in your own beliefs, you can see it very tangibly in the activity calendars, which are the visible display of how residents are invited to live well in your community. It shows up on senior living activity calendars in these (and other) ways:

  • Unique activities? Does your calendar have fewer than 5% of activities each month that are truly unique to the month, quarter, or year? If you're not sure, try this: pull up three months of calendars and cross off every item that is routine, including standing card games, meetings, birthday celebrations, group fitness classes, etc. See what's left and consider how empty your calendar might be if it highlighted only the unique events.
  • Passive vs. active? Does your calendar have a substantial percentage of the programming designed to be passive (sit-and-listen) rather than activating residents' minds and bodies? How many events are truly resident-led where the staff are only providing assistance with room reservation and possible event communication? Which programs can you point to that facilitate meaningful social interaction for your residents?
  • Serving just the vocal minority? Are your calendar events built largely on the vocal minority requests, where the activity director serves as an order-taker instead of pulling from a broader base of residents, community connections, etc.?

[Read More: 3 Keys To Improving Resident Engagement In Wellness]

Those are not the hallmarks of programming that communicate the capability, energy, and desires of the seniors we serve. Those are very much representative of offerings for those who are retiring from life. They tend to be narrow in scope, limiting in new experiences, and focused on probably 20–30% of your population. They demonstrate our lowered expectations for what will inspire seniors to engage.

Fortunately, it seems the senior living industry as a whole is moving toward educating on ageist stereotyping and uncovering systemic challenges that make it hard to overcome the generalized belief that increasing age means decreasing value to society. LeadingAge offered this "beginning conversation" in the magazine late in 2016, and the International Council on Active Aging has been beating the drum against ageism as well.

At the community level, using a fresh lens to see what's possible from an activities standpoint is a good start. That means dropping (as best you can) any perceptions you have about the audience you serve. You can take a stab at revealing your assumptions by giving a colleague your elevator speech about what you do.

  • Do you include assumptions about what programs residents will and will not participate in?
  • Do you have an underlying assumption of frailty in your residents?
  • Does your message speak to how resistant your residents are to change?

If your focus is on keeping residents busy and entertaining them, you may be building your enrichment program on ageist stereotypes. Perhaps it's time to do better. Check out these concrete ideas for truly honoring the passions and interests of your lively and very much alive residentsOr, if you're ready to get busy evaluating what you have as a starting point for making improvements, check out our quick read on how to evaluate the quality of your wellness program.

Find out how to evaluate your program

Topics: senior wellness active aging senior living senior living community activities ageism

How I manage my stress with a 5:00am workout

NIFS | Managing Stress | Early WorkoutI know I'm not the ONLY one who exercises early in the morning.  While I don't have stats on the percent of exercising adults who workout before 7:00am, I know there are quite a lot of us; I see my tribe at the gym when I'm there at o'dark thirty.  (Seriously, why would commercial gyms open at 5:00am if there wasn't a demand for it?)  Still, whenever I get into a conversation with a friend about exercise and it comes out that I'm on the treadmill at 5:00am, I get the "are you out of your bleeping mind" look. 

The thing is, adulting is hard. There are a lot of pressures flying in (and sometimes sticking around) from different directions. We're wearing so many hats - wife, mom, friend, volunteer, employee - that without fail, when one of those important elements in life is out of whack with high stress, the other areas suffer too. 

I know it sounds cliche, but exercise is my fix.  When I'm not moving my body regularly, the carefully-laid house of cards I've built that has the appearance of everything going smoothly in my life is going to get blown over by the slightest of stressors.  Enter the 5AM workout.  I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I've tried other times of the day and it just doesn't fit for my life.  I have to be at work by 7:30am so I can leave by 4:30pm for kid pick up and once I'm in mom-mode, forget the afternoon/evening for "me" time. I suppose I could try the lunch-time thing if I thought my coworkers would be okay with me sweating in the office (even after a shower...yes, I'm one of THOSE people).

To be clear, when my alarm goes off at 4:30am it's not like I'm all bright eyed and perky.  I stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffee pot and then sit on the couch to go through some basic seated stretches while I wipe the sleep from my eyes. I am never happy about the 5:00am workout, and I don't hit it every day, but I'm always glad when it's done and my whole day is better for it.  

I've done the early morning workout since I started adulting after college, and I've learned over the years to listen to my body so each early meet up with the treadmill, the weights, or the pool isn't always a time trial to beat yesterdays effort. I'm more forgiving for a light day and for skipping a day which has its own benefits for my psyche. 

When I managed corporate fitness centers for NIFS years ago, I used to get asked what was the best time of day to workout, and my answer was always the same: it's whatever time you actually will workout.  That's still my answer; 5:00am isn't for everyone. But there are a lot of hours in the day to choose to move your body.  Even a short 10 minute stint can be powerful for your health.  Carve out the time, no matter the hour and no matter how brief. Your body, your family, and your friends will be glad you did. 

Like what you just read? Click here to get more great content like this! 

Topics: stress workouts exercise habit making time to exercise morning workout

4 Myths That Are Limiting The Success of Your Corporate Fitness Center 

Including a corporate fitness center in your menu of employee wellness benefits is worth considering. It takes away a few common excuses people use for not exercising by being convenient and low or no cost for employees to use. But if you think that simply putting a fitness center into your office space is a key answer to lowering your health care costs, you’re mistaken. And, if lowering your health care costs is your primary motivator for funding a corporate fitness center, you may want to reconsider that position because generating ROI figures specific to your onsite fitness program is almost impossible.

If you're still with me because you think a corporate fitness center is on the list of the right things to do to help your employees be well, then consider the myths below that may hold back the success of your worksite fitness initiatives.  

#1: If we build it, they will come.

Corporate fitness center ghost town

No, friends, “they” won’t. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that just under 22% of adults age 18 and older self-report meeting the physical activity guidelines. Because that data is self-reported, it’s probably inflated. If this snapshot is representative of your workforce (and it probably is), then your employees aren’t as active as they should be for optimal health. But simply putting a fitness center in your building won't automatically make inactive employees start exercising. Solely dedicating a space and putting some equipment in, is no guarantee that it won't quickly become a ghost town.

One key to making your fitness center more effective is providing engaging and qualified staff to both manage the center, AND provide key services/support for employees. Without fitness center staff, you are building a corporate fitness center for the 15-20% of your workforce who are already regular exercisers. That said, if you built your corporate fitness center to be a nice amenity and you don’t really care if it’s being used, then carry on. But, if you’re truly interested in helping people adopt physical activity into their lives, consider getting the right staff in there to pull your fence sitters (“Maybe I’ll try it Monday”) off the fence and into the fitness center.

#2: If we can find the right carrot, more employees will participate.

One manager’s “carrot” is another employee’s “stick”. A lack of employee engagement can’t be fixed with HSA money or t-shirts. It’s likely that your employees aren’t participating for reasons much deeper than the extrinsic rewards you’re willing to lay at their feet. 

An individual’s ability to be well goes WAY beyond biometric screenings and an HRA. Research tells us that zip code does more to determine our health than our genes. Employers have zero control over both of those. So, while you’re designing the perfect incentive strategy to get your employees to participate in the annual wellness program, they’re wondering how to keep food on the table and how pay their bills. They're worrying about junior's performance at school and they pray daily that he gets to and from school safely. If that isn't enough to have on their plate, they’re suffering the weight of serious stress brought on by working more than one job. 

In the midst of all of the stress of their personal lives, there isn't a consideration of using your corporate fitness center. Worse yet, every Fall, when you tell them the money that’s at stake if they don’t successfully complete elements X, Y, and Z of your wellness program, they only feel more burden and frankly a necessity to participate in the drudgery that is your wellness program. They NEED those HSA dollars so they’ll scrape by figuring out a way to complete all of the wellness program components. And they’ll resent you all the way. There’s nothing healthy about any of that.

#3: If we ask employees what they need, they’ll put forward ridiculous suggestions we can’t use (so we don’t’ ask).

I can’t say this is 100% false. Case in point, we have one client who has a few employees who annually ask for a pool at work via our satisfaction survey. The client is never going to act on that request. But, it would be equally ridiculous to assume that all feedback is as myopic as this. 

If you subscribe to the ideology that healthy and happy employees are the core of your successful business, then you value what your teams have to say. Sometimes, their needs for improved health shows up in their data, so you don't even have to ask. In other cases, they have fabulous ideas for elevating your organization that would never otherwise have made it to the surface if you didn’t ask.

We make it a habit to solicit feedback from fitness center members, and in many cases, they've asked for services that we were able to implement to the benefit of all of the members. For example, in response to a member request, we now routinely have a large bottle of sunscreen available for members who want to run/walk outside. We also started building a library of grab-n-go workouts on laminated cards that members could use to get through a quick session without a scheduled appointment with a trainer. Eventually, we built those into on-the-road kits for employees who traveled; they could check out a travel kit before their trip and return it when they got back to the office. You could argue that these ideas should have been on our radar, but they weren't and we never would have met these needs if we hadn't asked for feedback. 

#4: If our fitness center isn’t being used we need to change our management partner.

Maybe your fitness center is struggling because of the management company, or maybe it's the right management partner but the wrong staff for your culture. But, before you assume that low participation in your fitness center could be fixed by swapping out the vendor, take a holistic view of what's happening in your work environment.  

Here's why: if your employees have very little autonomy in their jobs, then the corporate fitness center isn’t even on the employee’s radar. They punch in and punch in without looking back. It doesn’t matter how engaging and inviting the fitness center staff is, how great the services are, how fun the group fitness classes are, and how easy it is to join the fitness center. If their work environment offers no flexibiliy, they will not use your fitness center. 

Your fitness management vendor cannot rise above your organization's cultural barriers to magically draw employees into the fitness center, and a vendor switch is a major ordeal. So, exercise caution and take a hard look in the mirror before you fix a vendor relationship that may not be broken.  

***

Your employees lives are complicated and their work environment is part of that sticky picture.  Some of them are likely fighting to make it each day, in ways that you may have never considered. If you’re committed to a strategy for employee well-being that is truly about lifting your employees up, then you have to bust through these myths to get to the real barriers that make it hard for people to make a healthy choice. For more on addressing social determinants of health in your wellness program, try this article. If you're looking for a few quick tips to infuse a little more movement into the workday for your employees, grab our quick read below.

 Quick tips to help your employees move more

Topics: employee health and wellness workplace wellness corporate fitness management

How a Robust Fall Prevention Program Can Improve Residents Lives

Falls are a big concern for senior living communities. Given the well-known statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's easy to see why. The National Council On Aging provides compelling numbers as well. This is why we work so hard with our clients to establish robust, evidence-based, year-round programming that focuses on improving resident's balance and strength, as well as their self-confidence.  

One of the key elements for successful balance programming is drawing in as many residents as possible; we've found that the best way to accomplish this is through varied programming. It's not enough to simply put a balance class on the calendar. Communities have to take it one step further and offer other ways to interact.

Balance Redfined | NIFS Fall Prevention

NIFS Balance RedefinedTM programming offers everything from fitness testing to classes that teach participants how to safely get up from a fall. We've spent years evolving these services as we responded to resident suggestions and evaluated our program data.  Below are stories from residents whose lives have been positively impacted by the work our staff do.

Ms. Weigle

Despite losing her husband just a few days after they moved into the community, Ms. Weigle made a conscious choice to take that difficult first step out of their apartment to meet new neighbors, and within a few weeks someone invited her to try the Balance Class offered by the NIFS fitness center manager. She has been a faithful participant (and ambassador!) ever since and has expanded her lifestyle to include additional activities such as swimming, walking groups, gardening, and studying Spanish. 

Ms. Weigle takes her regular exercise so seriously that she’s told her family not to call in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because she will be in the pool. When asked, she’s proud to share that through repeat balance testing with the NIFS manager, she is seeing her scores improve.  At 87 years old, she thinks becoming steadier on her feet has helped her in other areas of her health. In fact, in a recent doctor’s visit, she was praised by her doctor for exceptional blood pressure, and she was pleased to share that ankle pain which had long bothered her was no longer a problem. 

[Read more:  Ms. Weigle's full story]

Mrs. Chapin

When Mrs. Chapin moved to her community about ten years ago, she wasn’t new to exercise. With a COPD diagnosis almost 20 years ago, she started swimming laps, and even though she hated to exercise, she kept at it because she knew it was crucial to helping her stay well with a chronic disease. But when she and her husband moved into their community, she took a break from regular exercise to engage in so many of the other opportunities provided. 

She watched her husband’s health gradually decline, so she nudged him to join her for a Balance class, and they were regulars up until his passing last year. Through that loss, Mrs. Chapin felt the support of the members in her class, and was able to keep attending regularly. The social support in NIFS balance programming has been a significant and  positive as she draws her social network from that group. Mrs. Chapin’s annual senior fitness evaluation confirms she’s on the right track with maintaining her balance, but more important than the numbers is how Mrs. Chapin feels. She told us that at 88 years old, she feels steadier than ever and she’s thrilled to still be sewing quilts and clothes, as well as painting, and serving on several resident committees all of which wouldn’t be possible if she wasn’t in good shape. 

Mr. Sadler

Mr. Sadler never used to exercise.  But when he moved to his community in 2009, his decision to start taking group fitness classes and using the pool proved valuable to overcome health challenges that were just around the corner. After a knee replacement surgery didn’t go as expected, he had to have the surgery reversed and replaced the joint with surgical concrete.  Not only did that “fix” leave him unable to walk, he lost significant healthy muscle tissue as well. Following his release from physical therapy, Mr. Sadler was only mobile by scooter or wheelchair and he stopped attending an annual family beach vacation.

He knew his only hope to return to more independence, and maybe to enjoying that annual family vacation again was to get back to a regular exercise routine. After working closely with the NIFS team at his community, he was able to regain significant strength and balance through careful water training. Eventually, he got back to land-based exercise as well and at 87 years old, he has resumed driving and walks confidently with a walker. In 2015, he joined his family again at the beach for their annual vacation. 

[Read more: Mr. Sadler's full story]

Mrs. Boelter

Mrs. Boelter was physical active as a regular water aerobics participant before she moved into her community in 2013.  She was also an avid walker and all of that has continued with the help of the NIFS staff at her community. As her Parkinson’s disease progresses, she feels the importance of maintaining her activity level even more and shared that through regular personal training with the NIFS manager, she has more energy throughout the day. But most noticeably, she is more able to get moving in the morning compared to her previous routine.

Mrs. Boelter noted that although she’s had a number of falls over the past 20 years since she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she’s had no major falls since she started working with the NIFS staff on her balance. She tells everyone at the community about the benefits of the classes and personal training; she’s a living testament to being able to maintain her independence with regular balance training offered at her community.

Mrs. Moore

Mrs. Moore has been active in the fitness center and with the NIFS staff at her community since she moved in 2004. More recently however, she participated in the NIFS Balance Challenge at the suggestion of the NIFS manager. Through a series of evaluations, education, and fun games, residents engaged in the Balance Challenge understand how to improve their balance as well as how to avoid and manage falls. 

New information on managing falls proved to be very timely for Mrs. Moore when she sustained a fall outside of the clubhouse. After she got her bearings, she was able to use skills she had learned from the NIFS manager during the Challenge to get up on her own without injury. She shared she’s been able to use what she learned through the program to stay active with gardening and to keep up with her grandkids too. She has also become an ambassador for all services connected with balance training at her community. 

[Read more: Mrs. Moore's full story]


It's really common for communities to have missed opportunities when it comes to providing comprehensive fall prevention programming. We can help you spot and fill those gaps to provide exactly what your residents need to feel steadier and confident on their feet. Click below for more information about a free consulting session with NIFS to jump start balance training at your community.

Find out more about a free consulting session with NIFS >

Topics: fall prevention balance training senior lliving balance redefined balance training for seniors

What Happens When We Make Purposeful Living the Heart of Life Enrichment Programming

senior_woman_balancing.jpgLet's see if this sounds familiar:

  • Your residents love the life enrichment staff.
  • Residents sometimes complain that there are too many things on the calendar; they can't attend everything they want to.
  • Your life enrichment director routinely reports how lively and engaged the resident wellness committee is but you don't have real data to back this up.

These are "benchmarks" we've used for years to determine when activities are going well in the community. In 2018, those benchmarks are only status quo, and we are well into an era where leadership must begin looking carefully at how resources are being allocated for life enrichment (including the fitness program).

[Read More: How to give resident wellness programs a fresh look]

Activities Directors as Order Takers

Activity Directors (or Life Enrichment Directors, or Wellness Directors...you pick) are busy like all the other personnel in your community. They are at the heart of every community's bustling events calendar by performing a delicate balancing act every month taking “orders” (requests) from residents and the community all while juggling existing and long-standing calendar events (Do not mess with the card player’s schedule). The programming is delicately placed on the calendar and carefully scheduled with typically limited space inside the community, and tightly booked transportation to areas outside of the community. 

Sometimes the influx of requests from residents alone can fill a whole month. And sometimes the calls from outside the four walls of the community require booking out months in advance because the programming is so tight. It is indeed wonderful to have so many things to do in one senior living arena. 

But a busy calendar isn't the same thing as a calendar built on resident purpose. And there are limitations to your Activities Director serving as an order taker. While many community leaders lay an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" label over activities simply because the resident's aren't balking at their options, those organizations are leaving quite a bit on the table in terms of building truly purposeful living for their residents.    

Residents Do Not Want to be Entertained

You see, residents in your community aren’t looking solely to be entertained.  After all, your community is not The Love Boat with your Director filling the role of Julie. Instead, residents are looking for purposeful living in a setting where some of the barriers that used to get in the way, like home maintenance, have been removed. They’re looking for opportunities to contribute, to grow, and to connect in new and challenging ways. 

The order taker model only meets the needs of the vocal minority. Those who sit on the committee or who speak up are more likely to have their interest pursued. However, over the years, I have observed that senior living activities seem to fall into the Pareto Principle where twenty percent of the population consumes eighty percent of the resources. I guarantee there are residents who don’t participate because you haven’t tapped their interest or desires yet.  

[Read More: Top 5 reasons your resident's don't engage in wellness]

If your Activities Director moved away from taking orders, could the calendar hold more intentional opportunities for residents to engage in the community lifestyle programming?  Would more of your residents be involved in the offerings because of the thoughtful approach to a variety of interests represented by your diverse audience? This shift in how an Activity Director does business requires a change in focus; instead of using the meeting minutes from the monthly committee minute as a to do list, the activities team needs to start thinking strategically about how to engage a variety of stakeholders in the planning process for resident events and activities.

Change for the Sake of Doing Better

Most of us aren't big fans of change, but change for the sake of doing better provides meaning to the difficult decisions that lie ahead. Suggesting a fresh approach to how the calendar is organized, who is supporting events, how events are developed, and how success is measured will help the activities team start to see what "better" looks like. (Note, "better" doesn't mean turning all of the programming on its head. We do not need your residents in an uproar over substantial changes to beloved activities.)

That said, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when you’re trying to change an approach or a process. Our Build Vitality webinar series (which covers branding, staff, program, and fitness center design) is a good resource. If you’d like a more hands on approach, consider bringing NIFS onsite for consulting to help you chart a course to build a multidimensional activities calendar that cultivates purpose for your residents.

find out more about consulting

Topics: senior living status quo wellness for seniors senior living activities purposeful living

Using Wellness to Decrease Employee Turnover in Senior Living

NIFS | Employee Turnover | Employee WellnessTurnover in senior living is notoriously high for a number of reasons. One of the tools leadership can use to increase tenure for employees in community settings is offering balanced and thoughtful wellness programs. What follows are suggestions for how to elevate wellness in your corporate strategy so that your workforce understands you care about them beyond the day-to-day work they provide to keep the community running.

Employee wellness is about much more than a walking program.

How you position wellness in the organization can determine whether it sinks or swims. Physical health is only part of the picture. That's not to say you shouldn't offer a walking program. It can be a very simple way to help employees be more aware of how much they're moving during the day. But keep in mind that much of your community's staff members are on their feet most of the day serving the residents; a walking program for them may feel like "one more thing to do" in an already busy, service-oriented day. And giving everyone a wearable fitness tracker doesn't always communicate a "we care about you" message, either. The CNA scraping by on $12.50 an hour might rather have a small raise than a fancy wristband.

[Read More: Why Employee Purpose Could Be the Heart of Corporate Wellness]

Consider the health challenges across your workforce.

Your administrative/leadership team will have different obstacles in achieving good health compared to what you might see for your physical plant staff and nursing aides, and the community's approach to wellness needs and what it will take to address that range. The wearable/walking program I mentioned above is a good example of a well-intentioned offering that often falls flat for hourly staff. But, if you provide compensated exercise time for employees, you might be onto something in terms of a message that truly says, "We want to make it easy for you to live well."

Be careful if you intend to use biometric screenings and health risk assessments as the pillars of your wellness program. They have become hallmarks of a good "outcomes-based" wellness program in recent years, but that title may be misplaced. If you're just getting started on a wellness program for your community employees, it could be tempting to latch onto such screening tools as the place to begin. But there are challenges with these offerings that should not be glossed over.

Also keep in mind how important social determinants of health are for your workforce. The health habits that your crew practice at work are only part of the picture of how well they live. Where employees live can have a profound effect on their well-being. Access to healthy foods, reliable and convenient transportation, safe living environments, cultural norms and other issues have a strong influence for all of us on how they engage with healthy choices, and your workplace wellness program may be butting heads with those strong social factors. Maintaining realistic expectations about the ways your workforce can engage at work will help set your program on the right path.

Align your wellness strategy with the rest of your business strategy.

If your organization is already built on a model of caring for employees, infusing a message that you want to help employees live well should resonate positively. But if employees feel that the culture is punitive and as if their every move is being watched, "wellness" is quite likely going to sound like one more management hack designed purely to cut costs. Here are some suggestions for improving retention through a supportive relationship-based approach. You'll need to get the overarching company culture in place first before you add in a wellness component if you want your message about employee health to resonate with the staff.

Where to look next.

If you're more confused than ever about how to get an employee-centered wellness program off the ground for your workforce, you're not alone. The variable shifts, the wide range in roles (many of which are quite physical in nature), and the simultaneously gratifying and exhausting nature of the work you do, complicate how to both establish and deliver a wellness message and programming. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  1. If you don't know what makes your employees tick, start by getting to know them a little better. They may have interests they could share with colleagues that would buoy the whole department or organization.
  2. Connect with employees working in a variety of settings across the community to find out what would help them feel supported to live well. You probably won't be able to execute on all of the ideas, but you will likely get suggestions you couldn't have imagined on your own.
  3. Start small and with the right messaging. (Hint: You can craft the right messaging when you have information from tip #1.) Always lead with words and actions that communicate a desire to help employees live well. If you say it in words and your actions don't align, employees won't engage.
  4. Learn from other similarly situated organizations. There are communities out there doing this work with their employees, and they can help you avoid some of the pitfalls they've already climbed out of.

It's not easy work, but don't let that stop you. Doing well for your employees helps them do right by your residents, and that's a community where everyone benefits. Need a little more information to get your wellness program started in the right direction? Check out the blog below.

Blog: doing corporate wellness for employees

Topics: corporate wellness senior living staffing wellness programs employee turnover

3 Ways to Use Surveys to Improve Your Corporate Fitness Program

In a seasoned corporate fitness program, sometimes it's hard to figure out where to look next for improvement in the services, staffing, or overall offering. In NIFS almost three decades of providing corporate fitness management services, we've continued to evolve our use of surveys well beyond the typical satisfaction ratings. Below are three tested survey styles that we use on a regular basis to improve our corporate fitness centers and  ensure our staff are doing everything they can to sustain a positive and inviting fitness atmosphere for employees.

The New Member Experience Survey

We know that creating a positive and welcoming first experience for employees in corporate fitness is crucial to winning loyal members. And we value customer service skills in our staff as much as we value sound exercise science knowledge. In order to capture our staff's effectiveness at using strong customer-focused skills with new members, we began implementing a new member experience survey. We use the tool in a monthly welcome email with new members to get a better picture of any potential barriers members may experience as well as to better understand how well our staff are implementing expected procedures for orienting new members. Results from this survey offer strong talking points in semi-annual review discussions or more frequently if needed to both praise and correct staff, based on member feedback.

 View a sample of our new member experience survey

The Quality Assurance Surveys

When we contract with a business to provide fitness center management services, part of the package includes managing liability within the fitness environment. We have several components in our quality assurance program that support this activity, including a monthly emergency procedures survey which our managers fill out. It provides a nudge to ensure they're checking emergency equipment, stocking first aid kits, and documenting any missing or broken supplies in a timely fashion. We also have an annual risk management survey and a semi-annual emergency survey where staff work through emergency scenarios and take an emergency preparedness quiz.

View a sample of our monthly emergency procedures survey

The Satisfaction Survey (with a twist)

I suspect that most vendors like us provide a satisfaction survey to share with clients how the staff, services, and spaces are being received by their employees. It's foundational to measuring our commitment to the client; in fact, portions of our satisfaction survey sometimes translate into service level agreements between us and the client. We've made tweaks to our standard survey over the years, and we recently added a Net Promoter Score question as a new twist that provides us with more of an industry benchmark for the way our staff are connecting with members to build loyalty. 

NPS.png

Even if you're unfamiliar with NPS, there's a good chance you've answered a product or service survey question that generated an NPS for the provider. It's usually worded to ask how likely you are to recommend X service/product to a friend and the answer is given on a 0-10 scale. The responses then are broken down into three categories:

  • Detractors, rate their likelihood to recommend between a 0-6. They are considered likely to stop using your product/service and/or share negative feedback about your product/service.
  • Passives, rate their experience as a 7-8. They’re neutral to your brand; they might continue to use your product/service, but they aren’t likely to invite others into the fold.
  • Promoters, rate their experience as a 9-10 and they are considered evangelists for whatever you’re selling; they LOVE you and will tell others about how great you are.

The industry average NPS for fitness centers as tracked by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub association (IHRSA) is 43. That score includes commercial gyms, so it’s not quite apples to apples, but we are talking about a very similar scope of services where members are entrusting their physical health to the fitness center staff and carving out their very precious personal time to spend time at the gym.  Since we added an NPS question to our survey over the last few years, we have far exceeded that industry benchmark and we are regularly looking at strategies to continue growing member loyalty.


This overview provides a good snapshot of the types of information we gather through surveys, but I haven't touched on how we use the survey responses to coach our staff, improve our client relationships and manage customer liability. To dig more deeply into these topics, grab our white paper.

Make better use of surveys in your fitness program >

Topics: employee health and fitness corporate fitness center service level agreements for corporate fitness corporate fitness survey tips

A Warning About Wellness Data in Senior Living & How We Can Do Better

NIFS | senior living wellness Special thanks to Sara Kyle as a co-author for this piece.  You can read more about her experience in senior living here.

Over the last several months, the senior living industry has seen more published data on wellness offerings. A few examples include this report from Senior Housing News (SHN), and the 2017 ICAA/Promatura Wellness Benchmarks report. I'm thrilled that organizations are taking a stronger and more consistent approach to measuring the impact of wellness for older adults in senior living. We can all benefit by being more informed; but I want to suggest a few cautionary notes about the data. 

As you read the reports, articles, and posts, it's easy to get swept up in the headlines and colorful images. Instant validation seems logical when the numbers back up our own experiences. But just beneath those captivating soundbites are sample size issues, a lack of consistent definition of terms and problematic comparisons between a study population and real world groups. We've seen these research challenges for years in corporate wellness (check out this blog for a consistent digest of how the corporate wellness industry has routinely gotten it wrong). I'd hate to see senior living go down that same path.  

Here are a few examples from the above noted reports that spark additional questions when you dig a little more deeply into the numbers:

Who makes up the sample and how many of them are there?

In the SHN report, authors note that 308 adults age 65 and older were polled using a Google survey. We lack key information about these 308 respondents. For example, we don't know if those surveyed are employed, if they're community-dwelling, if they have health issues, if they're living with government assistance, what their faith background is, etc. And while 308 respondents seems like a significant contribution, it may/may not be enough to declare data from that sample to be statistically significant. These missing elements don't mean the survey findings are unimportant, but it does mean we need to take a measured approach to digesting what's offered.

We also need to ensure that study limitations (like sample size) are included in the write up because those limitations impact how we process the information for validity, reliability, and transferability into other populations. Limitations don't necessarily render the research incorrect or useless, but they do provide important context for the findings as well as how we might move forward to study a similar topic.

What do we mean by engagement?

It's common to see terms like engagement and participation when reviewing data related to wellness in senior living, but those terms often aren't clearly defined. In one case, I found (after some digging and discussion with the publishing organization) that participation was defined as residents choosing at least one activity per month. When NIFS staff report to communities about participation rates in the fitness program, we're providing data on resident who visit 1x, 5x, and 8x per month. It's easy to see how a lack of standard definition for participation could skew a comparison between the two different data sets. 

You might think participation is fairly cut and dry. And I suppose if our single focus is measuring the number of behinds in the seats, then participation is clear. But, we also know that headcounts don't always mean the individuals are involved in the activity. I would argue that sleeping through a stretching class requires a very generous view of participation to assume that the resident received the intended benefit from the class. And that's where engagement comes in; it's definitely a moving target. It's highly subjective and very individual. But the individual who is engaged in the stretching class is moving his body, making eye contact with the instructor, and is responsive to feedback or changes in the activity. While some people use engagement and participation synonymously, they are not the same thing. 

Is selection-bias an issue?

It might be. Here are a few ways I saw it play out in the two reports I've mentioned:

  • The ICAA notes that 89% of older adults living in Life Plan communities who are tracked through their bench marking tool, self-rate their health as good or excellent while only 68% of age-matched older adults who are non-community dwelling, rate themselves the same. That's a huge boon for housing operators, but this data suffers from a self-selection bias where a variety of factors well beyond the community's control may contribute to the higher scores for residents and the lower scores for non-residents.
  • The SHN report profiles a fall prevention program where the program operators note the baseline data showed that 38% of residents in the community had suffered one or more falls.  One year following the implementation of their initiative targeted at reducing falls, they noted that the incidence rate had gone down 10%. What wasn't noted in the report was a listing of potential reasons for the decreased rate of falls that are completely unrelated to the initiative such as variations in the pre and post-sample, and the increased likelihood for residents to not report falls (particularly when they know they're being watched for falls). The program providers indicate that they've saved the community $500,000 with this fall prevention initiative, but that savings would indicate that we can assign value to that which we prevented. I'm not aware of a concrete way to value prevention; it's one of the great shortcomings of preventive health strategies.

How can we do better?

While there are some holes in the data that has been coming out on wellness in senior living, I think the research should continue, and below are a few areas where we could all improve the quality of what we're releasing for the greater benefit of the residents we're serving.

  1. Let's ’s get industry clarity about how we define wellness because right now we see it as the “wellness gym”, the “wellness nurse”, the “wellness staff” who are really fitness center staff, the “resident wellness committee” who plans activities that may or may not be tied to purposeful living. Gaining a more clear and shared definition of what we mean when we say resident wellness gets us all started on the same page. 
  2. Let’s get clarity about how we define engagement and participation. To me, defining participation as 1x per month to seems kind of low, but if we’re going to agree to that baseline, then at least it's a starting point.
  3. Let's find value beyond hard numbers. The ICAA does a great job of profiling and recognizing fantastic programming provided by 3rd party providers as well as directly by housing operators. There are similarly interesting initiatives throughout the SHN report.  Continuing to share meaningful lifestyle offerings is a win for everyone.
  4. Let’s use data where it’s significant and less subjective. For example, one of the programs outlined in the SHN report showed where one operator demonstrated a 50% improvement on average for residents who did baseline fitness testing and repeat testing. In-between their testing periods, participants engaged in exercise prescribed for them by a trained fitness professional. This isn't a complicated initiative, our staff offer something similar in our client communities, and the data is hard to dispute.

When you're paying to download a report that promises reliable numbers, and meaningful information, it's okay to ask questions about what's being offered and whether it will translate to your environment. It's also okay to question the study design to better understand definitions inherent to the outcomes. 

We have a long way to go as an industry to tighten up research so that our evidence-based practices are better. Do you have other areas in senior living research or in wellness specifically where you think we can all do a little better? Comment below to keep the discussion going. 

Topics: senior fitness senior living community senior living wellness programs wellness for seniors older adult wellness

Why Outsourcing Senior Fitness Management May Be a Good Investment

 Of course, it’s horribly self-serving for us to say that staffing your senior living community fitness center isn’t a DIY (do-it-yourself) project. I'm not necessarily above shameless self-promotion, but the truth is, the consequences of choosing to provide your own staff for the senior fitness center can be costly. 

Let me start with an analogy. Think about your car and the routine oil change that's needed every 5,000 miles. It's not a terribly complex job to change the oil, and yet, do you do that work yourself? Most of us don't, despite the plethora of YouTube videos available to coach us through the relatively simple process. Instead of adding that job to our list, we drive to a shop and have a technician do the work.

In a similar way, fitness center management isn't super complex. But it does require some expertise for both the staff doing the work and the leadership charged with evaluating the overall success of the fitness program. If you're lacking in either area, there is likely room for improvement in your exercise offerings.

What follows are three key reasons I think working with a partner to provide the very best exercise program possible for your residents is a great investment for your community.

Reason #1: Your Actual Dollar Cost Is Only Part of the Cost/Benefit Picture

If you’re reading this thinking, “Outsourcing is expensive—way more expensive than hiring my own personnel,” you’re right. Of course, costs come in two types: direct and indirect. So don’t stunt your thinking about this by looking only at the invoice from the partner against your compensation profile for your own employee.

(KGR - call out park springs case study for improved service with NIFS vs with their own professional)

Reason #2: Outsourcing Fitness Center Management Provides Expertise You Can't Build on Your Own

Managing a fitness center isn't rocket science, but it does come with its own challenges (like most careers), not the least of which is making sure we're doing everything we can to support the customer, who in this case may be an 87-year-old woman who has never exercised. To that end, there is a benefit to having a pool of likeminded peers who are doing the same type of work, sharing in successes, problem-solving through challenges, and brainstorming new ideas together. When you hire an outsourcing organization like NIFS to provide your staffing, they have that built-in peer support.  When you hire your own wellness professional, they’re essentially on their own to build a peer network of support.

GettyImages-682517288.jpgReason #3: Outsourced Partners Are Experts in Fitness So That You Don't Have to Be

Risk management related to both the physical spaces and the programming connected to those spaces is an important consideration, and when you work with a professional organization to have your fitness center and related services managed, you don't have to lose sleep over the liability exposure. If your partner is worth their salt, they'll have the longevity and expertise to know the industry standards for waiver language, pre-activity screening, industry-appropriate certifications, subcontractor liability management, etc. 

Not sure where to start?  Get your checklist for managing fitness liability by clicking below to download.

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If you’re the “I’ll fix my own brakes” or “I’ll build my own home addition” type, then you’re more adventurous than I, and perhaps you should hire your own fitness professional. If you’re looking for an outsourcing solution that is more trustworthy and reliable than your mechanic, less expensive than your home addition, and offers a better return on investment, consider checking NIFS fitness management out. 

Is outsourcing fitness center management right for your community?

 

 

Topics: nifs fitness management senior living community outsourcing fitness managment return on investment

When It's Time to Expect More from Your Corporate Fitness Program

GettyImages-873616226 (1).jpgCorporate fitness centers are pretty low on the totem pole for most organizations. And that's how they end up just "existing" with the rest of the benefit items; they're on the list of nice things to have, but there's nothing about the corporate fitness program itself that tells leadership it's really thriving or performing well for the employees. If that resonates with you and what you're seeing in your worksite fitness program, it might be time to change things up.

Here are three signs that indicate it's time to take a fresh look at what's possible in your corporate fitness program.


#1: If You Haven't Seen Your Fitness Center Staff Out and About...

...its time to check in on how the staff are serving all of the employees (not just the corporate fitness center members). While it's likely that your fitness center staff are well degreed and credentialed for exercise, they also probably have some skills for promoting other areas of health. If they're not leaving the fitness center to provide additional worksite wellness programming, it's possible they were told that their domain is the fitness center and they should not be doing other health-related programming in the building. That's an easy one to correct; have the conversation with them and see what they can start offering across your campus to support employee health.

One of the beyond-the-fitness-center initiatives our staff members provide allows the employees to put up a signal at their desks that they'd like a quick consultation with the fitness staff. In one case, it was fun stress balls that were the signal; in another case, it was little green army men. Employees picked them up at a promotional table along with a flyer describing the at-your-desk exercise service. Then at designated times, NIFS staff walked the work areas looking for employees who had left out their signals. They provided brief consultations and exercise/stretch recommendations for employees at their desks, and they dropped off a membership application for the fitness center. In just one offering of this program, our staff interacted with an average of 40 new employees each week and picked up 15 new fitness center members directly from their consultation conversations with employees at their desks.

#2: If You're Not Getting Monthly Updates on How the Fitness Center and Related Programs Are Performing...

...it's time to at least ask for the data to see what the fitness management provider can produce. If the vendor isn't in the practice of tracking at least monthly visit and participation data, you may want to rethink the partnership because it will be a steep hurdle to get them thinking about data collection if that isn't already part of their business model. In truth, you should be able to count on at least two types of data from your corporate fitness center:

  • Monthly fitness center numbers: Total visits, unique users, frequent users (we track 5 or more and 8 or more visits per month), along with appointment volume and group fitness participation.
  • Program outcome data: Executive summary–style reporting that shows key outcomes from the initiative along with a program overview and plans for improvement in the next offering.

#3: If No One Has Really Raved in a While About the Staff or the Fitness Center Programs...

...it might be a good time to confirm how strong of a relationship the staff members have with your employees. We believe the foundation of our successful corporate fitness center partnerships is relationships. While it can take a while to build strong connections, once established, you should expect to hear periodically from your employees about how the fitness center staff are doing great work, helping to motivate them to do more than they would on their own, etc. If you're not getting those kinds of comments, your corporate fitness program might be in a rut and it's time to breathe some new life into what's possible for your employees' health through an exercise program.

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Ready to dig a little deeper into what's possible for your corporate fitness center?  You're in luck - we have a whole guide on the topic designed to walk you through three key opportunities to build a more successful program.

Get Our Guide to Successful Fitness Programs

Topics: employee health corporate fitness data staffing worksite fitness