Saturday, July 4, 2009

Successful Corporate Health & Fitness Programs

Investing in the health of your employees can increase productivity, reduce time lost to sick leave and deliver significant health and safety benefits. Larissa Bannister reports on how Australian companies are tackling the issue of corporate health

Australians as a nation are getting fatter. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women are now classified as obese while a further 42 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women are overweight.

Although no figures are available for this country to link obesity with productivity at work, research in the US has estimated that companies spend as much as US$61 ($78) billion on direct health care costs and US$56 ($71) billion in indirect costs due to loss of productivity as a result of obesity.

Curtin University of Technology

Australian organisations are beginning to realise that investment in the health of their employees can bring real business benefits. Obesity, for example, can be tackled through nutritional and exercise advice and according to Jillian Woolmer, healthy lifestyle program coordinator at Curtin University of Technology, has a big impact on employee productivity.

“People work much more effectively when they are healthy and happy,” she says. “We focus on increasing employees’ physical activity, improving nutrition and on encouraging them to stop smoking.”

Curtin runs a variety of classes offering everything from mediation to Tai-Chi to belly dancing. The program is inexpensive to run as the university benefits from resources including counselling services from the School of Psychology and massage practitioners from the School of Physiotherapy.

Last year, Woolmer decided to focus on a specific weight-loss initiative and, on the advice of the staff dietician, chose to implement the Weight Watchers ‘At Work’ program.

“I wanted to introduce a weight loss group so that people could get extra support from each other – often people know what they should be doing but don’t apply that knowledge,” she says. “I considered running it myself but I’m not an expert on weight problems. We chose Weight Watchers because it focuses on a healthy lifestyle and is easy to fit into your life – it does not promote drastic weight loss and it teaches some cooking skills too.”

Meetings take place once a week and this year Curtin plans to run two courses of 12 weeks each to match university semesters. If members miss a company meeting due to work pressures they can go to their local community group instead.

“It’s run as part of our nutrition segment and we’ve had some great results from it,” Woolmer says. “We’re a big organisation and as an added bonus it has been a great way for employees who would never have met otherwise to get to know each other.”

But it’s not just obesity that results in loss of productivity and increased incidence of sickness and injury. The key to developing an effective all-round corporate health program is, as with any HR initiative, to assess your company’s individual needs and work from there.

The CALM experience

In some cases, corporate health programs can be a necessity, as was the case for the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) in Western Australia.

According to CALM health officer Alicia Taylor, the current extensive corporate health program started life eight years ago purely because staff needed to be fit to do their jobs properly. “It came about because of our role in fire fighting,” she says. “Our employees had to be able to cope with long periods of very hard physical work to fight fires effectively.”

The program began with testing employee fitness levels. HR ran health and fitness days to test blood pressure, cholesterol levels and lung function. “I came into this role three years ago,” Taylor adds. “I realised straight away that there was so much more we could be doing.”

There are now two health officers in place, both of whom spend a lot of time talking to employees to find out what they want to receive from the program. Currently, CALM has gyms in most offices which are paid for by fundraising activity, runs regular exercise classes for employees and offers yoga and massage as well as a number of health initiatives like skin and mole scanning.

“We also try and promote all the national health initiatives as much as we can,” says Taylor. “So, for example, in National Healthy Bones Week we ran osteoporosis workshops. We also run health and wellness expos once a year where we invite people from places like the Heart Foundation and Diabetes Australia to give talks to our employees.”

The healthcare initiatives at CALM are made available on a voluntary basis, but there is a powerful incentive in place to encourage staff to spend time on their own fitness. “We have a fitness policy that says that for every 15 minutes of your own time you spend on exercise, you can use 15 minutes of CALM’s time,” Taylor explains. “You can earn up to a maximum of one-and-a-quarter hours per week.” Although CALM has no exact figures on the number of people who are using the program, Taylor says that it is easy to see that popularity and participation is increasing every year.

Many of the initiatives in the program cost CALM very little, and in some cases nothing aside from the salaries of the two health officers. “For a fitness testing day you are looking at the cost of equipment like cholesterol testing strips for which you pay about $80 for 25 strips,” says Taylor. “But that’s really about it as we try and do all the research and presentations internally and run classes ourselves.”

Some of the most popular initiatives are provided at no cost to the business. “The mole scan clinics are a great example. We provide staff with a voucher which can be bulk-billed – it costs us nothing and the health companies get the business so everyone wins.”

Management is very supportive of the health program, Taylor says. “We had one manager who said that he would pay for a massage for every member of his staff who regularly used the new gym we had set up… managers can clearly see the benefit of having healthy staff.”

Taylor can also point to some compelling statistics to demonstrate return on investment (ROI). Since the program was introduced in 1995, lost time due to injury has been reduced by 27.5 per cent and injuries requiring medical treatment by 38 per cent. “We’ve also seen increased productivity and reduced sick leave,” she adds.

The AMP experience

AMP has operated corporate health initiatives for almost as long as CALM has, but introduced a company-wide program in 2000. Sharon Davis, HR director for AMP Financial Services, says the program has the dual purpose of enhancing value to current employees and of attracting new talent to the business.

“The program has two main rungs,” she explains. “One is to offer health clubs and gyms and the other is to provide a variety of health clinics for things like skin cancer screening or management of stress through seminars with qualified organisational psychologists.”

The format changes from year to year depending on staff needs and on responses given in annual staff surveys. All components are either partially subsidised or cost AMP nothing. “It’s a value proposition and our employees appreciate the economic benefits they receive due to our purchasing power. Everything we offer is optional but the courses are always full and the gyms have a waiting list for membership,” Davis adds. There are gym memberships available for more than 30 per cent of employees in Sydney CBD, Melbourne and Parramatta.

Davis says that she had no problem getting management buy-in for the health program when it was rolled out across the whole business. “As an organisation our two main assets are people and IT, and management understands that people are key. I needed to prove positive ROI though, as although the health clubs are self-funding they use expensive CBD office space as they are all onsite.”

Davis worked with a wellness consultant and drew on empirical evidence from other organisations to prove her business case. There are real business benefits to be had, she says. “In our industry there are three main areas of work-related injury of which stress and repetitive strain injury are two, so we run the chill-out for performance [stress management] and posture at work clinics to address them.”

She says that measuring ROI is difficult as there are so many initiatives in place which contribute to improved performance. “But as we’ve moved to a self-funding model there has been less need to continually prove ROI,” she adds.

The company originally provided gyms on a fully subsidised basis but moved to a self-funded model at the time of the rollout across the company. “It was a cultural thing, we felt we needed a more adult relationship with our employees,” Davis says. “It also helps to create some supply and demand – and we found that people tend to value what they have to pay for, even if it’s as little as $8 per week.”

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fitcorp Asia launches new Corporate Health Program with PCS (Thailand)

Fitcorp Asia, Thailand's leading corporate health and wellness experts, launches brand new corporate health program with PCS, Thailand's leading Property care services provider.

Fitcorp Asia launched a new progam called 10,000 steps, driven towards increasing general activity in the workplace for 40 management and staff.

Using Pedometers, participants have to record and log their daily steps, monthly targets are set and prizes awarded to the mosy active and successful teams!

Daniel Remon, Managing Director, Fitcorp Asia explains "this program is super effective in creating cohesive teams who are goal oriented and proactive in creating a physical and active culture in the workplace".

In addition to the 10,000 steps program, Fitcorp Asia is also providing movement classes such as boot camp, yoga and stretching classes to improve circulation, increase activity and overal body mind wellness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Make them work more (efficiently)

Five Steps to Increase Productivity

There is increasing pressure on all employees to accomplish more during the workday. But extending work hours sometimes isn't possible, and it definitely isn't desirable. Increasing your productivity can help. Here are five tips to help you get more done in less time.

Keep daily files.
If you don't have a system with 31 slots in it (one for each day of the month), try using an accordion file or large filing envelope where you can file papers in the right day's slot. You won't have to search for them when that day arrives.

Find a quiet place to work.
If your office is too public to get an hour of concentrated work done, step out to the conference room or library, where people are less likely to find you and interrupt you.

Purge your files.
No matter how organized your filing system is, many items could be dispensed with after a year. Plan to spend 10 minutes going through a few inches of files and throwing out parts of files, or even whole files that are no longer necessary.

Start the week right.
Schedule things that will start your week off well. Try to achieve some sort of success by midday Monday. Similarly, make an effort to have a success on Friday afternoon. This will end your week well and leave you in a good mood to start off Monday.

Reduce time pressure.
Resist pressure to do something quickly when you don't think you can do a rush job right. Instead, work for an alternative that will satisfy both your own and the other party's concern.

R/R contributor

10 tips to keep your employees alive and kicking!

Nutrition & Weight Management

1. Encourage employees to eat breakfast.
Eating breakfast can raise metabolism by as much as 10%.1 And, it can give your employees’ metabolism a jumpstart, giving them the energy needed to perform at their best in an often demanding workday.

2. Promote a healthy diet.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 54% of Americans admitted to weighing more than they should.2 It’s no secret, eating healthy these days is getting more and more difficult—and the rub is that employees know their eating habits are getting worse. How’s your company cafeteria?

3. Recommend physical activity.
Overweight and physical inactivity account for 300,000 premature deaths annually—second only to tobacco related deaths.3 There are a number of fun activities you can do to help promote physical activity in your workplace. Try initiating a stair climbing challenge in which employees use the stairs rather than taking elevators. This exercise can be especially effective if your office is located in a skyscraper!

4. Post BMI charts.
Overall, the direct costs of obesity and physical inactivity account for approximately 9.4% of the national health care expenditures in the U.S.4 Posting BMI charts can be a great way to initiate conversation on weight management with your employees. Weight management programs can help your employee’s live longer and healthier lives, and can save your organization serious money.

5. Make sure drinking water is available to your employees.
With more than 2 million soft drink vending machines in America 5 it’s no surprise that Americans consume 54.5 gallons of soft drinks annually. Providing an alternative to the soda pop machine is a great way to help employees reduce those extra calories from their diets.

6. Identify healthy eateries in close proximity to your workplace.
More than 54 billion meals will be eaten in restaurants and school and work cafeterias in 2001 7 —most of which aren’t even remotely healthy. Compile menus from local eateries and identify healthy items for employees to choose from. Talk about creativity, fortune 500 giant Union Pacific Railroad partnered with local restaurants to incorporate healthier food items on their menus—and UP employees took advantage.

7. Warn employees about fad dieting.
Americans spend $33 billion annually for weight loss products and services that offer quick fixes. Help employees identify those fraudulent diets by providing information or sponsoring a speaker who can address this issue. Some warning signs of fad diets include those that restrict food choices to one or two items, or ones that offer ridiculous results like, “lose 10 pounds over the weekend.” For other tips on recognizing fad diets, check out the American Heart Association’s website at

8. Inform employees of the high fat lunch.
In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. The typical American now consumes three hamburgers and four orders of fries—every week!9 Suggest menus with healthy, yet tasty menu items. Less fat at lunch may also curb employees’ temptation to take that afternoon “desk nap.”

9. Suggest a multi-vitamin.
A recent study has suggested that vitamin C may help the body deal with stress more effectively. 10 Adding a multi- vitamin to your diet may also help employees receive the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to keep their bodies running well.

10. Provide cholesterol screenings.
Nineteen percent of Americans ages 20 to 74 have high cholesterol levels.11 According to Healthy People 2010, young adults should be checked every five years, while older adults—men over 45 and women over 55—should measure their cholesterol at least once a year. Providing this service for your employees can go a long way in preventing a number of serious medical complications.

Many more tips to come. Stay tuned!

R/R Contributor

Monday, July 14, 2008

What's A Corporate Workplace Health Promotion Program?

There is a lot of buzz going on these days about Corporate Workplace Health Promotion Programs. Everyday I take a small portion of time to see what is new in the world of Corporate Health promotion and I never fail to run across a new article boasting of the incredible effects a Health Promotion Program has had on yet another company.

You might be interested in adding Workplace Health Program to your company, but what is it exactly? The concept is actually quite simple.

A Workplace Health Promotion Program is an organized approach to helping your companies employees get healthier. Things such as fitness programs, stretching classes, health seminars, and stress relief programs. The program options are truly endless but it is important that they are created based on the unique needs of your company.