When Employees Lose, You Win

Want to build employee goodwill, boost productivity, and save money on health care costs? Of course you do! Here’s how helping your people achieve a dearly held dream–weight loss–can change everything.

Q: How can a floundering New Year’s resolution benefit your company? A: It can set you up to swoop in and save the day–helping employees reach their weight loss goals, and earning a big infusion of loyalty and gratitude in return. That’s right. It’s the perfect time of year to build employee goodwill by empowering the men and women who work for you to finally get slim, sleek, and healthy. The “hero” status you’ll gain may even be a better reason to do it than the lower health insurance costs and improved productivity that are likely to result.

When you focus on something your employees care about, it naturally makes them care more about your company. And let’s face it: almost everyone wants to drop a few pounds. But the truth is, losing weight is rarely an easy task. By helping them achieve what has previously been an unattainable goal, you become part of a larger solution for your employees. At that point, you’re giving them a lot more than a paycheck. You’re pushing them toward self-mastery and personal fulfillment–and that’s a recipe for increased gratitude and better work performance.

Of course, your “bottom line” is finances, not the size of your employees’ (ahem) bottoms. My own customizable Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.® corporate wellness program provides tools and techniques for helping employees slim down and stay that way–has a nearly inexhaustible supply of statistics on obesity and how much it is costing employers:

In a recent analysis of the Industrial Physical Capability Services, Inc., database, 39 percent of the new hire applicants were obese in 2007 compared to just 29 percent in 2000. This represents a 34 percent increase in the obese population. If this trend continues, one in two new hire applicants applying to industries in the United States will be obese by 2012.

The number of “normal weight” employees decreased from 33 percent in 2000 to just 24 percent in 2007. But what is more surprising is that the younger worker is getting fatter faster compared to the older worker. And a greater percentage of the obese population was morbidly obese in 2007 compared to 2000. The economical impact of this finding is devastating. Companies will be paying claims for obesity-related diseases for longer periods of time.

Add to these changes an approximate 80 percent increase in health care costs. A company with just 500 employees will spend nearly $1 million more in added health care costs in 2010 compared with 2005. Imagine if your company employs 50,000 people: the added costs would approach $200 million in 2010.

Weight loss may not be your area of expertise, but don’t worry. We have all of the bases covered. Here are a few suggestions on how you can help your employees get started:

• Be inclusive. Don’t just single out obese people. Choose a wellness program that emphasizes the benefits of lifestyle change–whose principles center on healthful, nutritious foods and regular exercise–and everyone will benefit. “Fitness” and “thinness” are not always synonymous. There are plenty of thin people who eat junk food and never, ever exercise. Programs like Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy. will help them get fit, too. And even if you have employees who are already doing everything right, the program helps them keep up the good work and maintain their healthy body weight.

Be honest with people about the costs of excess weight and the illnesses that come with it. Tell employees honestly and directly that it’s difficult to provide higher wages and better benefits when so much of the company’s money is going to support illnesses that could be prevented. If you’re implementing a company-wide weight loss initiative, you can make these points in a letter or a kick-off meeting. But don’t discount the power of personal, face-to-face conversations. People will respect you more if you look them in the eye and tell the truth–and if you express concern for their well-being (rather than focusing solely on the money), they may even be touched and appreciative.

Be prepared for a long-term commitment. Achieving a healthy body weight takes time. Obesity and related diseases will be with us for many years to come. Obesity did not occur overnight. It has been happening for the last thirty years, and now it will take considerable time to resolve. Therefore it’s important that you stand by your employees every step of the way. Never let them lose sight of their goals and keep them focused on the ultimate goal of a company filled with healthy employees.

• Offer incentives. What those incentives are can vary wildly. Some companies may give small cash bonuses or gift certificates for reaching pre-determined milestones. Others may offer discounted insurance premiums. Still others make it a “team thing” and set up friendly competitions between departments; the team that collectively loses the most weight gets rewarded with, say, a frozen yogurt party or an afternoon off. Even small incentives are powerful. Let’s be honest: walking every day and forgoing your coffee and doughnut break can be a drag. People like working toward a concrete reward. Be creative. Make it fun.

• Teach employees the basics of managing body weight. This is important not only for those who need to lose weight, but for those who currently have a normal weight. Remember the stats presented earlier. One in two individuals will become obese in the next five years. Therefore, it is important to teach the basics of managing body weight, so everyone benefits. You don’t want the normal weight individual to become a statistic. The only way to achieve a healthy body weight is to consume a moderate, nutritious diet and exercise regularly. Period. Fad diets, fitness gadgets, and other get-thin-quick schemes won’t work. Obviously, though, plenty of people are buying into them or the sellers wouldn’t be doing such a booming business. Educate your employees on the realities of weight loss.

• Get your employees excited about good nutrition. Create a “recipe” bulletin board–the old-fashioned “cork board” kind or the virtual online kind–so that employees can share the details of their delicious finds and their own culinary creations. Host a potluck lunch to which everyone brings his or her favorite healthful dish. Or ask employees to take turns bringing in fresh fruits, veggie trays, or other low fat snacks for people to munch on during break. Don’t forget to remove all “junk food” from the premises. It’s hard to stay on track when vending machines packed with grease and sugar and trans fatty acids beckon with their sinister glow.

• Foster and encourage exercise groups. Human beings are social creatures. They are much more likely to sustain an exercise program if they have company. Hire an aerobics instructor to come in several times a week–during pre- or post-work hours–to lead everyone in a vigorous workout. Start a lunch-hour walking group. You might even put a treadmill, stair-step machine, and weight bench in a vacant room so that employees can have their own “gym.” (Just ask everyone to sign a waiver so you’re legally covered in case of injury.)

• Link weight loss to larger family issues. No one wants to be obese. But most people want their children to be obese even less. Offering to help employees set a healthy example for their children can be a powerful motivator. That’s why my program has a strong child-centric component–including cartoon characters with names like Heart “E” Heart, Sticky Lipid, and Thundering Triglyceride. I’ve found that when you say to people, “Look, every time you open a new bag of potato chips and collapse in front of the TV, your kids are watching you,” they pay attention. Hey, guilt can be a very useful tool. Ask any mother.

Companies that implement, promote, and rigorously adhere to an integrated, well-coordinated wellness program will find that their commitment to employee health pays off in unexpected ways.

It’s a given that you’ll save money in health care costs. But you might also find yourself profiting in less tangible ways. People who successfully lose weight often gain a huge boost in self-esteem. They become happier and more confident, which makes them more effective at work, as well as at home. They feel connected to their coworkers. And they become more committed to your company in appreciation for your help in reaching their goals.

Plus, when you commit to becoming a healthier workplace, you’re creating a culture that talented people will want to be a part of in the future. That will yield continuing dividends. Who knows? You may look back on 2008 as the year that changed your company’s fate forever.

Click to Order Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy. Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time! From Amazon.com

About the Authors:

Thomas B. Gilliam, Ph.D., is the founder and president of T. Gilliam & Associates, co-author of the book Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.: Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time!, creator of the Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.® wellness program, designed to teach workers how to achieve a healthy body weight, creator of www.healthybodyweight.com and www.moveitloseitlivehealthy.com, and founder and owner of Industrial Physical Capability Services, Inc. (IPCS).

Since 1982, Dr. Gilliam has designed and managed many corporate fitness centers ranging from 500 square feet to 34,000 square feet. He has established a variety of wellness programs to deal with such health issues as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, physical inactivity, stress, osteoporosis, low back pain, and many more.

In addition, Dr. Gilliam is a pioneer and acknowledged expert in the field of dynamic strength testing for industry based on the sports medicine model. Since 1982, he has provided isokinetic physical capability assessments for Fortune 1000 companies through his company Industrial Physical Capability Services, Inc. (IPCS) (www.ipcs-inc.com). Dr. Gilliam’s programs have dramatically reduced workers’ compensation costs and decreased injury incidence and severity rates for major industrial clients. In addition, Dr. Gilliam has been instrumental in identifying and presenting to industry the higher risk for injury and disease caused by obesity in the workplace.

Dr. Gilliam is the creator of the Heart “E” Heart program, which is a healthy lifestyle program for children and their families. He was the principal investigator in a National Institutes of Health research study investigating the impact of physical activity and nutritional habits on heart disease risk in young children. Conducted in the late 1970s, this research resulted in numerous scholarly publications and television and radio interviews throughout the world, including NBC’s Today Show and NBC’s Nightly News with its science editor, Robert Basel.

In 1973, Dr. Gilliam earned a doctorate degree in exercise physiology with a minor in graduate statistics and research design from Michigan State University. From 1974 to 1982, Dr. Gilliam was a tenured faculty member at the University of Michigan. Before resigning from his tenured faculty position, he was involved with numerous funded research projects (i.e., N.I.H., Kellogg Foundation, State of Michigan, and others) that resulted in twenty-nine refereed scholarly publications.

Jane C. Neill, R.D., L.D., is the 2004 recipient of the Nutritionist of the Year Award for the State of Alabama Public Health. She is an active member of the American Dietetic Association and currently employed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, where she works with the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program as a WIC coordinator and a licensed dietitian. She has worked in the WIC program for over ten years, providing daily nutrition counseling for women, infants, and children.

While on the staff as a registered dietitian at the University of Michigan Health System in the late 1970s, Jane was instrumental in working with Dr. Gilliam as an investigator on the National Institutes of Health research study to investigate the impact of physical activity and nutritional habits on heart disease risk in children ages six to eight years.

Ms. Neill is a member of the team that developed and wrote the Heart “E” Heart program for children and their families.

She received her bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Alabama in 1977 in food, nutrition, and institutional management. Ms. Neill has been working as a registered dietitian for over twenty-seven years.

About the Book:

Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy. Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time! (T. Gilliam & Associates, LLC, 2005, ISBN: 0-9762703-0-7, $19.95) is available in bookstores nationwide and through all major online booksellers.

For more information, visit www.healthybodyweight.com or www.moveitloseitlivehealthy.com.

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