Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

What to Do When Traditional Senior Living Activities Fall Short

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed recently and stumbled across a posting for a Life Enrichment Director with a prominent senior living provider. The title was intriguing enough—I’m always curious about what’s happening in the area of wellness and lifestyle in senior living—so I clicked on the link, taking me to the job posting. What I read on the posting was enough to make me hang my head.

senior_ladiesWithout getting into detail, I’ll tell you that a primary responsibility for the position was to “create pleasant days.” Now, that requirement was in quotes on the posting, which makes me think it’s a branded program that’s a hallmark for the organization. And to be clear, the posting was for a Life Enrichment Director in a memory care community. So I can appreciate the need for programming to minimize participants’ agitation and anxiety, and to maximize the enjoyment of their days. Still, the idea of programming around building pleasant days for residents (in any level of care) struck me as wildly patronizing and profoundly off base.

Folks, we are doing an enormous disservice to the adults in our communities (in any area of the community) if our primary focus is to make their days nice. The residents are living, not passing life by sitting in a rocking chair on your porch. Your Life Enrichment Director shouldn’t be facilitating passive and placating activities unless that’s what the participant wants. 

The Need for More Engaging Senior Living Activities and Programs

Most of the amazing older adults I’ve met as I’ve traveled to various communities are full of life, eager to connect, and interested in learning new things. We have got to do lifestyle programming better than building pleasant lives for them. To be fair, a lot of organizations are succeeding at implementing creative, active, and engaging programs for their members. For example, Mather Lifeway’s café concept provides for fabulous connections with peers in the midst of unique and lively programs. 

However, in many cases, what I see in communities is a calendar full of activities where 90 percent of what’s listed are recurring events like cards, exercise classes, arts/crafts groups, religious services, shopping trips, and coffee or happy hours. The remaining 10 percent are unique to the month and are typically grouped into musical offerings, lectures, and excursions to the theatre or opera. From a maintaining status quo standpoint, there is nothing wrong with that calendar. Just don’t confuse it with one that is built to engage more than the 20 percent of your residents who participate in existing programs. And don’t consider that calendar creative and interesting simply because there’s no white space left to pack in more activities. 

Building a Better Activities Calendar

If you’re interested in building a better activities (or life enrichment, or wellness…) calendar and program, here are some starting points for consideration:

  • Evaluate what needs to change about your current mentality on programming for your members. If your job is to provide lots of opportunities to keep residents busy, it’s time to rethink the job. Residents don’t want to be kept busy; toddlers need to be kept busy. Building a successful and person-centered programming schedule is about inviting residents to engage in the lifestyle they want—the lifestyle that’s driven by their passions and interests.
  • Ask what success looks like for any given program. (Hint: the answer is quantifiable and isn’t measured by how satisfied the residents look.) Then establish your programming goals and figure out how to measure them. Take what you learn from that evaluation and do better with the next program.
  • Understand what drives your residents, and keep track of that information. Ask them what they’re passionate about and what makes them get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t have programming that speaks to those interests, figure out how to support them anyway (for example, see how one community supported an interest in golf). When you have an inventory on all the members, you have a tool to inform what types of programs you should start building and which residents you need to tap to be champions for the newest offering.

It’s time to stop busying yourself and your residents with filled-to-the-brim calendars that lack intention and invitation. Start actually building Life Enrichment by getting to know what motivates your members and build your creative and strategic (and dare I say “edgy”) program around your people, not their pleasant days.

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Topics: senior wellness programs engagement senior living community program planning program evaluation

12 Days of Fitness: Keep Participants Active During the Holidays

When it comes to the holidays, everyone seems to be short on everything: time, money, patience, you name it. We are, however, enjoying longer lines and longer wait times! With all of this in mind, fitness can easily be put on the back burner. There are parties to attend, various people to shop for, and light shows to see, so it’s safe to say that spending hours at the gym is not something most people are doing this time of year. Now come January, that’s a different story!

snowmanPutting a Fitness Spin on a Holiday Tradition

Our staff have found various ways of putting a fitness spin on an old holiday tradition. It’s a program called the 12 Days of Fitness, and it works really well to get people moving during this busy season. When you think of 12 days, it doesn’t seem like a long time—and frankly, that’s exactly the point! Yet, 12 days of burning calories, educating people, and having some fun can have a positive impact for the participants.

We’ve had several sites record a 100% completion rate for this program, and we think the key to success is making each day count with simple but impactful activities and including something that is truly encouraging for the participants.

12 Tips for Creating a Holiday Fitness Program

 Below are our 12 best tips for how you can create your own fun and effective 12 Days of Fitness program.

  1. Offer quick yet challenging workouts since time is of the essence during the holidays. Short 10 to 20-minute classes or challenges will get people in and out. Tis the season to be efficient and effective!
  2. Let’s face it: prizes both pull people in and keep them coming back. Have a daily drawing or a daily competition where one prize is offered on each day of the program. Keep the prizes health and fitness related to further emphasize a healthy outlook.
  3. Hosting lunchtime classes or activities gives associates an alternative to those not-so-healthy holiday luncheons or parties. The potential for binging is everywhere; why not create your 12 Days of Fitness as a respite for employees looking for a healthier escape? 
  4. Get creative with classes or activities that you offer. Provide the participants with exercises they can easily do at home, or offer new and exciting ones to keep them out of an exercise rut. You might try dance-style classes or incorporate an exercise scavenger hunt in your facility.
  5. Use the program as a learning experience. Show participants healthy recipes or even host a healthy holiday party offering samples of modified or low-calorie snacks, appetizers, main dishes, and drinks.
  6. Make participants accountable. Post the exercise or activity of the day and require that the staff sign off when it has been completed. 
  7. Encourage associates who work at home to participate. Send them emails with exercise pictures or video demonstrations. It’s important for people to know they always have time to squeeze some activity into their day no matter where they are located.
  8. If you’re focused on getting employees into your corporate fitness center, require that some of the exercises and activities be performed in the facility. This also gives you a chance to see and speak with the participants.
  9. Incorporate stress reduction and relaxation into the program. You can do this by offering educational materials on these topics, or more interactive things like hosting a free yoga class or 10-minute chair massages.
  10. Add a personal touch. Send out emails or make phone calls to check in with participants who have missed a day or one of the required activities or exercises.
  11. Incorporate teamwork into the program. Similar to our Maintain Not Gain program, working with a partner can increase the chances of success. You can do this in the classes you offer; you can require a partner for certain exercises, or even add a referral component where participants encourage nonmembers to join and participate.
  12. Celebrate their accomplishment! Being successful is key, but everyone can feel a sense of accomplishment if managed correctly. Besides the daily drawings, offer all successful participants something at the end of the program. This can be a prize, but it can also be wrapping the successful participants’ names around some lights and words of encouragement for all to see. Make your participants feel proud of sticking to a healthy routine during the holidays. They’ll surely thank you later, and might even ask for more programs like

If you’re not offering a holiday program, this just might be your key to keeping participation numbers up and the pounds and stress levels down. Use some of the above ideas for developing your own 12 Days of Fitness and see what kind of difference you can make this season.

Corporate Fitness Services

Topics: engagement best practice program planning

Senior Living: Using Wellness Programs to Combat “Someday Syndrome”

social seniorsThere’s a lot of talk about what some in senior living call “someday syndrome.” It’s the phenomenon by which adults who have a lot to gain by moving to a retirement community for one reason or another put off the move, indicating they’ll make that change someday.

There are industry articles, LinkedIn discussion groups, and product/service provider blogs about this phenomenon. I’ve heard it in my own parents’ discussion about moving out of their house and into a community. They’re ready…sort of. Well, not really quite yet, but they’re taking steps to be ready. I think they’re like so many of their generation. They have very good reasons to put off leaving their house. What they’re missing are compelling reasons to make that difficult change and move into a senior living community.

In 2008 and for a few years afterward, there was a delay by older consumers largely because of the housing crisis connected with the great recession. But more recently, as the housing market has slowly made a turn for the better, someday syndrome remains. My parents and many of their contemporaries are waiting because they simply don’t see themselves, their lives, anywhere but in their current home.

The Power of Storytelling

In one of Steve Moran’s blogs, “Is Good good enough?,” he talks about recent trips to two better-than-average communities. And although he records being politely and promptly greeted as well as appropriately “sold” during his visit, he felt no connection to either location. He was given good marketing collateral and told quite a bit about both communities, but there was nothing in that messaging to provide unique, compelling, relatable, or personal connections. In short, if he were a prospect, he had no heartstring tug, no strong pull to move to either community.

In the end, Steve comes around to the idea of telling stories as a way to distinguish your community from those around you, and I think he’s right. The stories about residents, their family members, their lives at your community, and how the staff facilitate the very best for them are the essence of who you are.

The good news here is that you already have stories; if you’ve been in business a while, you quite possibly have tons of them. But the hard work lies ahead in figuring out how to use them to communicate your culture, your way of life, as a tool for inviting prospects to join your community family. One of the places you should be looking for stories is within your wellness program.

What a CCRC Can Offer Prospective Residents

If we look at broad brushstrokes of what a CCRC can offer to prospects, there are two big categories: safety/security and lifestyle. Both categories are clear distinguishers in terms of providing more/better than what a prospect is able to achieve in her own home. The continuum of care with qualified and passionate clinicians, along with related services (therapy, podiatry, etc) all within the four walls of your community is simply not achievable for an individual who remains at home. And if your organization is on the cutting edge of opportunities for education, service, growth, and camaraderie in your wellness programming, you no doubt have robust programming that no one individual could so easily experience living in her home.

If you are a healthy individual in your 70s or 80s and you’re considering moving out of your home into a retirement community, which of those two messages is likely to pull you through someday syndrome and toward relocating in a community setting: how you’ll be cared for when you’re sick or dying, or how you can experience new opportunities and enrich your wellbeing as you live at the community?

Let me offer a word of caution here. The idea of using lifestyle to combat “someday syndrome” only works when your lifestyle programming is truly compelling, diverse, individually oriented, and life affirming. If you calendar is full of various card games, bingo, the occasional trip, the occasional lecture, the same old group fitness classes, and the monthly podiatrist visit, there’s no lifestyle to sell and you won’t be different from the competition. Make no mistake: just because the calendar is full does not mean the events are expanding the horizons of your residents.

How to Sell Lifestyle

After years of working with our CCRC clients, here’s what we’ve learned about selling lifestyle:

  • Selling lifestyle is easy when you have the right programming and people in place that can elevate resident stories of successful living.
  • Selling lifestyle is easy when your programming has data to back up participation and engagement rates.
  • Selling lifestyle is easy when your marketing and sales staff understand the language they need to use and have specific stories to make a connection with a prospect.

If you’ve been nodding your head and you believe it’s time to elevate your community lifestyle both to serve your residents better and to create a true market differentiation for what you’re selling, check out this blog.

Are you ready to do wellness better? Learn more about wellness consulting.

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior living engagement active living senior living community marketing

Why Nobody's Using Your New Resident Fitness Center (Part 2 of 3)

training seniors resized 600Your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.

There is a lot of movement in recent years for senior living communities to include expansive, thoughtfully designed fitness spaces in their new community development or refurbishment plans. Surveys have indicated that wellness is a priority for prospects, and we don’t really see that going away as the boomers look toward their next life and how they want to live that next chapter. (I know you’ve heard this a gajillion times, but they are coming, and no amount of burying your head in the sand will change that. Get ready or get out of the business of anticipating their needs and knocking their socks off.)

So if you read part 1 in this blog series, you read about how your investment in wellness cannot stop with capital dollars. In this section we’re focused on why your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.

What Quality Fitness Leadership Is Not

Let me start perhaps with a list of exclusion—a list of what quality leadership is not. It is not limited to a traditional 1990s model of group fitness classes and a very part-time, questionably qualified attendant. It is not a personal trainer service (fee-based or free). It is not a silo-style environment where fitness is an island operating independently of what’s happening with activities, or resident services, or dining or other continuums of the community.

If any of that sounds familiar, I have a bad news/good news message for you.

  • Bad news: You’re stuck in a decades-old model. It may be working for you, but it’s worth asking whether it’s truly delivering on your brand promise. I would submit to you, at the very least, that if you’re working within a dated model, you’re lacking the capacity to truly be forward thinking. If your fitness services were built to be really strategic and forward thinking, you wouldn’t still be partying like it’s 1999.
  • Good news: You have fantastic opportunities to do more for your residents through your fitness program.

Quality Fitness Leadership Includes Core Skills and Soft Skills

Quality fitness leadership for your residents isn’t rocket science, but it does require some core skills that are learned through an accredited university curriculum, as well as soft skills that articulate a true passion for serving the residents in your community.

No doubt, you have more than enough practice at ferreting out the soft skills piece; after all, finding people who want to make a career out of serving our elders is your business. But understanding the technical competencies required in a qualified fitness center manager for your senior living community may be a little trickier. And then once you’ve found that qualified individual, you need to be prepared to take a strategic approach to on-boarding them in your community, which includes preparing both existing staff and residents for the new personnel.

The Keys to Hiring the Right Fitness Center Manager

There are a few keys about hiring that I think are helpful to communities venturing out in this process on their own. I’ve listed them quite briefly here:

  • Make sure you get familiar with the candidate’s credentials. Carefully evaluate certifications they list; not all fitness certifications are created (or earned) equally.
  • Require the candidate to demonstrate the skills required for the job. If you need them to teach group exercise classes for your residents, have the candidate provide a demo. If you need someone who can administer a senior fitness test, talk through that testing with the candidate or host a mock test as part of the interview.
  • Ensure the candidate can program for your audience. Evaluate their capacity to create print materials that fit with your brand, as well as the skills to execute a program from start to finish.

I’m here to tell you that those capable and passionate professionals do exist. We’ve written extensively about how to hire and how to successfully onboard fitness and wellness professionals. If reading isn’t your thing, consider watching our webinar on building better wellness staff in our Build Vitality webinar series. To discuss in greater detail, drop me an email and we can take a closer look at what you need as well as options on how to get there. Subscribe to our blog now to make sure you can catch part 3 of this blog series: What marketing needs in order to really sell your new amenity to prospective residents.

Topics: senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior living community senior living fitness center hiring tips

Why Nobody's Using Your New Resident Fitness Center (Part 1 of 3)

empty fitness centerFrom the wellness consulting and fitness management work we’ve done with our clients over the last several years, we’ve seen our share of essentially empty fitness centers and pools in senior living communities.

It’s sad.

So often, community leadership invests substantial capital dollars for dedicated fitness spaces including rooms that hold the exercise equipment, rooms devoted to group exercise classes, and additional (and typically significant) spaces for aquatics amenities. The result after construction is that the spaces are beautiful—even stunning.

But these same swanky spaces, unfortunately, often aren’t functional. Sometimes they contain the wrong equipment or a dysfunctional design. Most commonly, the biggest roadblock to a thriving fitness program is that these spaces weren’t considered under any type of strategic plan, so programming of the space is largely ineffective for the residents and typically disjointed from the rest of the community.

The result is a beautiful new space that sits unused.

If you’re wondering why you poured so much money into this non-revenue generating space that appears to provide no additional benefit to the residents, or how to avoid this phenomenon, stick with me on this blog series, where I’ll write about the following:

  • Your capital investment isn’t the end of your commitment.
  • Your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.
  • Your marketing and sales team may be missing the mark when selling fitness to residents.

Part 1: Your Capital Investment Isn’t the End of Your Commitment

It’s a big deal: You spent a lot of time with your developers on crafting a new space (or overhauling an existing one) that will match your community’s appearance, and that you hope will be a welcome addition (or change) for your residents. It’s not cheap, either, but you’ve done your due diligence, secured the funds, and designed the heck out of the space(s).

The capital investment may be so substantial that it feels like enough.

Alas, your time and your money are, in fact, not enough. There are important details to consider regarding the design of the space—details that can make or break the overall function of the amenities. Read our blog on key things to avoid when you’re building a fitness center in senior living to find out more about common pitfalls when designing a new fitness space for senior living.

But you can’t stop with the physical space. This isn’t an “if you build it, they will come” type of project. You will need to cultivate a strategic plan for effective use of the space after it’s open for use.

Maybe that strategy is the job of the activities director.

Or maybe…the community needs a whole new approach to resident wellness that puts a wellness director at the top of the activities food chain. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Wellness is a way of life, not an activity, and it should be cultivated accordingly. Do the activities drive the wellness program in your community, or does the wellness culture dictate the activities? Answering that question according to the organization you are striving to be will help you figure out the hierarchy question.

Regardless of who is in charge of it, the strategy for effective use of the fitness center is really central to ensuring that this new space contributes positively to residents’ vitality. Questions for cultivating the strategy should include the following:

  • What is the goal, mission statement, or focus of wellness in the community, and in what ways do you expect that your fitness program will contribute to that end?
  • What investment needs to be made in staffing for the fitness center? (The answer to this question varies by community, but I can just about guarantee you that fee-based personal trainers and group fitness instructors are not enough.)
  • How will you know you’re achieving success in your programs? Will you mark it with simple participation goals, or will you be reviewing health outcomes, satisfaction, or other outcomes in your programming?
  • If you’re changing your activities/wellness hierarchy, how will you communicate those changes to the community and how will you reinforce your emphasis on this culture shift? Will that information need to be communicated to the residents? If so, how will you do that?
  • What operating decisions need to be scrutinized in light of your new emphasis on resident wellness? Does it make sense for your organization to make this strategic shift by including wellness for your employees at the same time?

To be sure, these questions, when thoughtfully addressed, will likely lead to more questions. Be patient; cultivating a strategy takes time and often requires continuous tweaking. It is a journey well worth taking, both for the benefit of your business and for fulfilling you commitment to facilitate a vibrant lifestyle for your residents.

In part 2 of this blog series, I’ll write about the importance of the right leadership in your fitness program. Make sure you have subscribed to our blog so you don’t miss a beat on this series and other hot topics we’re covering.

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Topics: senior center solutions senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior living community marketing fitness center for seniors nifs fitness center management

Why Fitness Initiatives Fail in Corporate Wellness: Truth #4

ROIIn truth #1 of this four-part blog, I started to climb on my soapbox about measuring ROI in corporate wellness. (I’ll spare you the rant; you can reread the blog if you’d like.) Suffice it to say that I am not an expert at calculating ROI. NIFS is not an organization that touts ROI among our selling points. That’s right, I can’t tell you the return on investing in a corporate fitness center (and I sure as heck am not going to make something up!).

But don’t confuse our lack of skills for ROI analysis with a general lack of drive for data. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Ask my staff; they can just about recite from memory my key points on the importance of evaluating the programs they’re running and the services they’re providing to determine impact.

Here’s the thing about evaluation: truth #1, truth #2, and truth #3 matter a lot less when you aren’t taking the time to be strategic about what you’re doing with exercise programming for your employees. If you’re just going to slap spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, why bother? There are too many tasks competing for your precious time to not implement your corporate wellness initiatives wisely.

Truth #4: Fitness initiatives fail as part of a corporate wellness strategy because evaluation of the programs isn’t incorporated into program design.

Raise your hand if any of these points sounds like something you want to do for your corporate wellness program:

  • Make the case for more money, more staff, more support, and more respect.
  • Spend time on programs that are really making an impact.
  • Drill down to the tougher issues in corporate wellness, like sustained participation.
  • Observe and act on trends over time in participation, completion rates, and overall impact for similarly situated initiatives.

With a comprehensive evaluation strategy in place for your corporate wellness programs, you can accomplish most, if not all, of those things. I know because that’s exactly what we do for our corporate fitness management clients.

A Breakthrough 

Several years ago, I spent a lot of time wracking my brain trying to figure out how we could jump into the ROI game. But I kept getting stalled at our lack of access to all the data, the variables I couldn’t account for, and my extremely limited knowledge of statistics. It seemed like there must be some door I needed to open that would reveal the secret formula I needed to get to the next steps. But I couldn’t find that door for my life.

Then I heard Ron Goetzel speak at the American Journal of Health Promotion conference. During his seminar he pretty much just came out and said it. I, me, myself, could not calculate ROI alone. I would need a team, and some (a lot of) money and it would be much broader than our small impact in a corporate fitness program.

After I got over a mixture of disappointment (I had been so sure I could figure it out!) and relief, I got to thinking about what I could do that focused on data and ultimately evaluated effectiveness of our programs and services. In the end, we built an evaluation framework that made sense for us and allowed us to (1) prove our worth for our clients who had invited us to manage their fitness centers as part of their wellness program, and (2) communicate better information to our members who were counting on us to help them improve their health.

Building the Case for Corporate Wellness

So let me spare you my investigational roller coaster because what was true for me is likely also true for you: you probably don’t have what you need to really calculate ROI from your corporate wellness program. But let’s face it, even the most generous of CEOs won’t throw cash at initiatives indefinitely. You will need to build a case for the effectiveness of your efforts early on. When you can begin drafting your initiatives with an end in mind where you set out SMART goals and then evaluate your progress against those goals, you have what you need to start building your case.

In our experience, though, it’s not just about setting goals and then looking back at the data to see if you achieved them. That’s only part of the evaluation framework. The other part is looking at impact, and impact can be measured when you look at your communication strategy, how effectively the program is run, and what participation rates and completion rates are.

When you start to piece out those specific impact-related elements, you can get a sense of opportunities for improvement that lie within your initiatives. For example, maybe you learned through a post-program survey that your communication strategy wasn’t focused on the best avenue to reach your designated population. Perhaps that group would rather receive a postcard invitation than an email. And poof—just like that you have some actionable data on which you can start improving the next offering. But if you didn’t plan out the initiative with the concept of offering a post-program survey that would assess program communication, you have no data on which to act.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating here: We’re not experts at all things corporate wellness. But I strongly submit that if this evaluation strategy works for our corporate fitness initiatives, it’ll work for other areas of your wellness programming, too. And if you want to read more about the “how-to” of program evaluation, check out our blog: 4 Keys to Getting Wellness Program Data You Can Actually Use.

Looking for one resource that contains all four of these truths about why corporate fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness?  Download our eBook for the full series.

CORP Initiatives

Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness corporate fitness managment ROI engagement

Why Fitness Initiatives Fail in Corporate Wellness: Truth #3

managing corporate fitness center liabilityIn this blog series, we’re focusing on why fitness fails as part of a corporate wellness strategy. The first two truths looked at how boring fitness programming is dying on the vine and how crucial multilevel organizational support is often missing for wellness elements that are low on the totem pole.

Before I jump into truth #3, let me provide a brief intro by way of a true story.

A woman joins a fitness center, signs all the required paperwork (including a waiver and release of liability), and embarks on her first studio cycling class. At the beginning of the class, she tells the instructor she’s new to the gym and new to cycling. So the instructor helps her get set up on the bike and advises the new participant to watch him (the instructor) closely for direction. Part way through the class, the instructor advises participants to stand while they ride. As this new member stands, the handlebars dislodge from the bike frame and the member falls to the floor. She sustains injuries that result in long-term chronic pain in her upper extremities.

She sues the bike manufacturer and the gym she joined. In the end, the gym walked away without financial liability to the plaintiff (although they no doubt paid their counsel significant sums to argue on their behalf). The court’s decision came back to the club’s use of a waiver.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you truth #3:

Truth #3: Fitness initiatives fail as part of a corporate wellness strategy because liability and safety are either overlooked or overanalyzed.

We live in a litigious society. There is no getting around that and businesses know it. The best you can do is make sure you’re prepared, that you’re practicing industry-accepted norms with respect to gathering and protecting health information as well as securing participant signatures on well-written waivers.  

Over- or under-responding to liability concerns will get you in trouble.  Below we look at each of those scenarios.

The Perils of Overlooking a Corporate Wellness Liability Policy

Sadly, despite the level of corporate policy and legal mumbo jumbo found in employee handbooks and on other business procedures, organizations sometimes fail to plan for their liability in connection with fitness opportunities as part of their corporate wellness strategy.

Nothing will shut down your fitness initiative faster than someone getting hurt in a program that wasn’t built with the right liability-managing procedures.

Yes, you should be using a well-written and easy-to-understand waiver for your walking program and your group exercise classes. Yes, you need to be thinking about how your liability carrier will react when they learn that you allow spouses into your corporate fitness center after someone has filed a claim. Yes, it is a good idea to have a corporate wellness policy about flex time that allows employees to exercise at work. It should also stipulate that their exercise at work is 100 percent voluntary and not subject to Workers’ Compensation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought in to consult on a project to build a new fitness center as part of a corporate wellness strategy overhaul and the client has given no thought—zero, zippo—to how they will deal with their liability in the onsite fitness center. The thing about this is that there actually is a whole set of standards and norms for running a fitness center that, when well executed, well documented, and regularly reviewed, is part of a great quality and liability-management practice.

Overthinking Corporate Wellness Liability

While it is more commonly the case that liability is overlooked, there is also the potential to overthink your liability and thus end up paralyzing your programming. Far too many quality fitness initiatives are pulled off at businesses on a regular basis to allow your programs to get stalled by a legal team that is afraid to move. There is a happy medium on this issue and it lies in that place I described earlier: the one where you acknowledge the risks, you take the best steps you can to protect against them, and then you get on with it.

Once you find that balance in managing organizational liability with corporate fitness initiatives, you can put more energy back into developing creative programs (truth #1) and cultivating relationships with key stakeholders throughout the organization who can support your fitness initiatives (truth #2).

Up next, in the fourth part of this series, I’ll talk about the importance of moving beyond your “I’m not good at math” mantra to dig deeply into program evaluation in corporate fitness. (Yes, there’s math involved, but you can handle it!)

Looking for one resource that contains all four of these truths about why corporate fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness?  Download our eBook for the full series.

CORP Initiatives

Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness centers ROI corporate fitness centers; return on investement engagement liability legal issues

Why Fitness Initiatives Fail in Corporate Wellness: Truth #2

In part 1 of this blog, I started with a gloomy portrayal of the mess many wellness vendors have made of the seemingly altruistic endeavor of corporate wellness. Okay, maybe corporate wellness isn’t altruistic; maybe that’s a little “Pollyanna” of me. But I think we can agree that one of the primary motives for implementing a corporate wellness program is to help employees improve their health.

And if employers are focused on improving employee health through corporate wellness, one of the elements they need in their strategy is opportunities for exercise and physical activity. Enter truth #1: Fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness because they aren’t creative.

Let’s move on to truth #2:

support from leadership for corporate wellnessTruth #2: Fitness initiatives fail as part of a corporate wellness strategy because they lack multilevel support within the organization.

“Support” comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s about money; in other cases, we need to look at support through company health policy. And in still other circumstances, support comes in the form of hands and feet—actual people who are driving your wellness initiatives.

To the CEO, CFO, and COO: We cannot run successful initiatives without money. There is a lot we can accomplish with no more than brains and people power, but at the end of the day, we’ll need some money. Recognizing that and removing the hurdles for your health promotion staff to get basic funding will go a long way toward ensuring success.

If your organization is considering company health policies, but there is significant pushback about legislating what people eat or how they spend their break time, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • You’re not Mayor Bloomberg: You don’t have to get your policies passed through government or the courts.
  • Writing policies with some flexibility that allows employees to choose their path will resonate better than dictating your own 10 healthy commandments. For example, if you write a healthy food policy for meetings, you can allow employees to still have donuts and pastries, but their department will have to foot 100 percent of that cost. If they choose fresh fruit, whole-grain bagels, and low-fat yogurt, the company will significantly subsidize the cost of the food.

Following are a few key ways to find the support you need to ensure successful fitness programming as part of your corporate wellness strategy.

Find Your Fitness Champions and Put Them to Work

There is a good chance you have employees who are already passionate about regular exercise. Leverage their enthusiasm by anointing them as your fitness champions and providing them with enough support to invite those around them to participate in your corporate fitness program. Put those individuals on your advisory committees or wellness teams and empower them to use their experiences to positively motivate their peers.

Create a Fitness Center Reimbursement Policy

If you don’t have an onsite corporate fitness center, or your fitness center is not accessible to your entire workforce, implementing a reimbursement policy for fitness center membership may be an important addition to your wellness policies. Use the web as a resource for writing your policy; SHRM offers this sample fitness center reimbursement policy as a guideline.

Check with your health insurance provider. They may have a commercial fitness center network you can participate in that offers discounted memberships to your employees as well as countrywide membership for employees who travel routinely. You may also be able to negotiate company membership rates with commercial gyms in your area; most fee-based facilities have an established corporate wellness members programs for this purpose. You can find out more by calling the facility and speaking to a membership representative.

Require Fitness Goals as Part of Annual Performance Appraisals

Imagine the potential to truly move the needle on the health of your workforce by fostering an environment where colleagues help each other achieve their health-related goals. Consider the impact of successfully meeting those goals as a small piece of each employee’s performance.

Incentivize Participation in the Corporate Fitness Center

Help your employees connect the dots between your corporate fitness center and your overall corporate wellness strategy by incentivizing participation in the facility—just like you incentivize participation in other parts of your wellness program.

Provide Flex-time to Allow Anytime Workouts

Building a variety of physical activity opportunities into the work day will have the greatest impact if your organization supports a flexible schedule for participation throughout the day. Rethink the traditional workday to allow for increased access to exercise options. When you have a traditional hourly workforce (for example, call-center or manufacturing-based employees), providing flex-time will require some creativity and new thinking to figure out how to maintain business operations while your workforce has 15 minutes of paid daily physical activity time.

Subsidize a Walking/Running Club

Spring for t-shirts for your employee-driven walking or running club. Not only do the participants of the running club feel supported by their employer, they also become moving billboards for your organization that promote your interest in your employees’ health.

Manage the budget for this simple program by establishing club rules that allow for the company to subsidize participation in one (or two, or whatever the company can afford) road races per year. There’s a good chance you already have a champion at your organization who will spearhead this club; count on that person to take the initiative and to literally run with it.

You can’t do it alone. Seriously, you can’t. As you’re mapping out that creative programming we talked about with truth #1, also map out who can provide you with additional support both inside and outside your organization.

Up next: truth #3, which focuses on keeping your company out of legal hot water that could arise as a result of poorly planned fitness initiatives.

Looking for one resource that contains all four of these truths about why corporate fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness?  Download our eBook for the full series.

CORP Initiatives

Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness ROI corporate fitness centers; return on investement engagement

Why Fitness Initiatives Fail in Corporate Wellness: Truth #1

Let’s face it: There’s a lot wrong in corporate wellness today. If you read this article on Forbes.com that summarized a 2013 RAND report on corporate wellness, you might be depressed. Or worse, you might be ready to throw in the towel on your business strategy for improving employee health. 

It's tough not to be disillusioned. This is an industry with a lot of mixed messages that vendors aren't working to clear up.  There are the over-simplification statements, like one vendor who promoted a “got engagement” message, as if we could simply add an ingredient to generate engagement. (I already ranted about this concept once; you can read the blog here.)

Other vendors are so bent on reporting and marketing positive ROI that they don’t do their homework on the tricky science of capturing true ROI. Their reports of 5:1, 7:1, or even a 10:1 return send mixed messages to buyers in the corporate wellness market. (For more on my thoughts about ROI, check out this blog.)

In truth, we’ve probably overcomplicated it; corporate wellness strategies can be fairly simple to develop. There are some critical health-related components that I think are required for a sound strategy. These include opportunities for the following:

  • Exercise or physical activity
  • Nutritious and delicious foods
  • Tobacco-free environments
  • Stress resilience education/support

And all of those components should be built on the idea of creating a successful environment where employees can thrive.  A number of elements need to be in place to create opportunities for employees to access that healthy list. Those elements vary by client, and truth be told, we’re not experts at all of them.

The bulk of our work in the last 25+ years has been focused on helping individuals improve their fitness level throughout their lifespan. So I’m going to stick with what we know and provide a four-part blog with time-tested truths about why fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness programming. Truth #1 is below. 

creative corporate fitness programsTruth #1: Fitness initiatives fail as part of a corporate wellness strategy because of a lack of programming creativity.

Why so many corporate wellness programs get stuck on the same old walking program is beyond me. The options for establishing fun, inviting, and effective programs are many. I’ve listed several below based on our experience working with clients of all shapes and sizes. This is by no means an exhaustive list; you are limited only by your own creativity.

If this list doesn’t jumpstart you, try searching the Internet and current literature, polling your workforce for what they want, and leveraging the passion of your avid exercisers to build a diverse program portfolio.

Start Walking Programs

Yes, I just bashed “same old walking program” above. The truth is, this is a simple and generally effective way to get employees moving. But you cannot just slap up a poster for “Walking at Work” and call it done. Consider options like the following:

  • What does participation and completion look like?
  • Will you include pedometers or advocate that employees enlist the support of a particular app to help them track their progress?
  • What are the start and end dates for the program? (This sounds so elementary, but programs with hard starts and stops are generally more effective than the ongoing—and typically unchecked—walking initiative.)
  • Do you want to enlist the support of web-based, fee-oriented programs to help with tracking or will you go with the wearables phenomenon?
  • How will you celebrate successes both during and after the program?
  • How will you support participants throughout the program?

Sponsor Group Fitness Classes

There’s something about community that makes group exercise classes appealing. For a lot of people, the only way they exercise is through a class format. Fortunately, this is typically a low-cost initiative, and if you’re willing to pass the cost on to the employee, it can be free for the employer. For more about corporate group fitness classes, download our quick read: 3 Keys to Adding Group Exercise at Work.

Beautify Your Stairwells

Honestly, think about the last hotel you were in. Did you venture to the stairwell to get from your second-floor room to the restaurant on the main level only to find that lighting was poor, and your safety in that enclosed space was questionable? I bet you backed up and reluctantly took the elevator down one flight. What a waste!

The same experience is being had by employees all over corporate America because our stairwells are dark, boring, uninviting—or worse, unsafe. You can overcome appearance issues by committing minimal dollars for brighter paint and improved lighting. Then cap off the capital improvements by launching a “Take the Stairs” campaign. Visit the CDC’s StairWELL to Better Health website for resources for building a robust and impactful stairwell campaign.

Add Lockers and Showers

If you’re serious about creating a variety of opportunities for your employees to exercise as part of your broader corporate wellness strategy, adding locker rooms to your campus sends a strong message.

And if you’re going to go so far as to install the locker room areas, you might as well at least give consideration to providing bike lockers. Serious cyclists won't use traditional bike racks because they don't keep their expensive equipment safe. Unless you want to see bikes stashed in offices and other workspaces inside your workplace, bike lockers deserve consideration.

Build an Onsite Corporate Fitness Center

As it turns out, installing locker rooms is kind of the gateway drug to doing bigger projects to ensure the success of fitness initiatives in connection with your corporate wellness strategy. Recommendations around accomplishing this significant undertaking are too much to outline here. For more information on the basic considerations for building a corporate fitness center, you can download our webinar series.

 Webinar Series: The Guide to Successful Corporate Fitness Centers

The outline above isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started so that your fitness initiatives avoid the lack-of-creativity trap that seals their doom.  Up next, truth #2: Look for information about how stakeholders can help your fitness opportunities either sink or swim.

Looking for one resource that contains all four of these truths about why corporate fitness initiatives fail in corporate wellness?  Download our eBook for the full series.

CORP Initiatives

Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness program ROI corporate fitness centers; return on investement engagement

Top 5 Reasons Your Residents Don’t Engage in Wellness

In my work with continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) across the U.S., I’ve seen resident wellness programs and services come in all shapes and sizes. These days, it seems all senior living communities advertise some kind of wellness opportunity for their residents. Clearly, communities are getting the message about how important resident well-being really is for both the resident and the business.

Resources like the National Whole Person Wellness survey that can guide and inform both strategic and tactical decisions for a community wellness initiative are becoming more commonly available. Similarly, the swell around opportunities like the International Council on Active Aging’s focus on Active Aging Week have sparked creative programming for older adults to engage in vibrant living.

For all of the fantastic diversity in wellness programming, resources, and opportunities available in senior living settings, there seems to be a consistent theme for many providers. They pull together initiatives only to have the same core group of residents participate. Simply put, there is a lack of robust resident engagement in the programs put forward by resident life coordinators.

It’s not an all-inclusive list, but what I’ve offered below represents some of the most common challenges I have seen in communities where NIFS provides staffing services or where I’ve offered wellness program consulting. If you find yourself nodding your head in affirmation as you read, it might be time to take a fresh look at what you’re offering and how you’re providing it.

Reason 1: You failed to leverage community champions as a promotional avenue.

Trying a new group fitness class, sampling from a new healthy menu, or participating in a new wellness initiative can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. There’s nothing like a personal invitation from a neighbor or trusted friend to help nudge you toward trying something new.

If you’re not working with your top resident participants to capitalize on their success as a tool for inviting new residents to engage, you’re missing out. Personal invitation, testimonials, and other individual connection can be very successful tools for attracting other, less active residents toward wellness programming.

  • Capture testimonials in resident newsletters and on community bulletin boards/CCTV.
  • Talk to specific residents prior to launching a new initiative and ask them to invite their friends to join them. Tell them why you think their personal invitation is so important. Perhaps suggest specific residents they could connect with for the activity.
  • Build a “refer a friend” component into your next activity challenge.

Reason 2: Power grabs and silos are overshadowing what’s really possible at your community.

Oh my goodness and for the love of Mike, please stop with the power grabs when it comes to activity programming in the community. No one wins when the activity director, the physical therapy group, and the fitness manager are vying for control of programs, spaces, and resident loyalty.

When community staff learn to play well together in the same programs and services sandbox, the community will benefit.

  • Activities staff should be eager to learn from their fitness director how to fold more exercise and other healthy messages into their standard programming. For what it’s worth, if you’ve done your homework and gotten the right person to direct your fitness center, then he or she is likely also qualified to provide expertise related to whole-person wellness.
  • The fitness director and the therapy department should be eagerly working together on a cross-referral program that supports appropriate therapy for residents in need and fitness program participation to maintain the positive work completed in therapy.

Reason 3: You forgot to ask the residents what they want to learn about and how they want to grow.

Communities are practiced at surveying residents, but those surveys typically encompass overall living at the community. Rarely are communities engaged in surveying residents about what their wellness interests and expectations are. Even rarer are custom focus groups where much can be learned about resident perspectives on current and future healthful-living offerings.

Reason 4: Volunteerism by residents is overlooked as a strategy to get more done with less staff.

Let’s face it : community financial resources are typically limited, and no one wants to charge residents more to expand services. So, you’re probably stuck with the staff resources you currently have. If that’s the case, consider tapping into occupational wellness by engaging resident volunteers to own some of the community wellness initiatives.

  • Walking groups, small-group Bible study, craft or hobby groups, and promotion and health-focused book clubs can all be resident driven.
  • You may be able to engage tech-savvy residents to support program data collection and analysis. Who could help you convert the manual attendance records into your software or spreadsheet for later analysis?

Reason 5: Data is king. If you don’t have data, you won’t know what’s working.

If I had a nickel for every time I talked to community professionals who told me they weren’t tracking attendance in their programs, I’d be set for early retirement. Folks, you need to start gathering data on your initiatives. It doesn’t have to be hard and the numbers don’t have to be confusing. But if you keep burying your head in the sand on numbers because you’re “not good with numbers,” you will forever be left with initiatives that are about as effective as slapping spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

  • Start small with participation numbers. Take attendance in your group fitness classes to learn which residents are coming and how often. Have residents self-report participation in the next healthy food tasting event, etc.
  • Refer to #4 for some support on how to use participation numbers to track trends over time.
  • Work with your marketing staff to find out what kinds of numbers they need to market your community’s wellness program, and then determine how to capture that data for them.

 What will you do next?

I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change alone. Still, sometimes change (or evolution, if you will) is necessary to elevate your offerings for the good of your community.

If you’re looking for a little help in evolving your community wellness strategy, visit our consulting page. If you busted right through the challenges above for top-notch service, share your best practices here!

 

  Are you ready to do wellness better? Learn more about wellness consulting.

Topics: senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior fitness