Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

How to Combat Sitting, a Workplace Health Crisis (Part 2)

woman using exercise bandIn 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.


Topics: corporate wellness exercise at work employee health corporate fitness worksite wellness corporate fitness managment corporate fitness centers; return on investement