Happy and healthy Featured

10:10am EDT July 22, 2002

Happy and healthy

How to bestow health and
fitness upon your employees

By Don Foxe

With unemployment hovering at around 4 percent, and Pittsburgh's evolution from a manufacturing Mecca to an international financial/information center, a renewed emphasis on a healthy workforce is sweeping through the Golden Triangle.

Businesses frequently are telling me that their current employee goals are retention, recruitment, morale, and lessening the odds of injury and illness. What they are discovering is one resource capable of positively impacting all of these goals: employee health and fitness programs.

As an exercise physiologist with more than 12 years in the health and fitness industry, I have been working more with major corporations, from Johnson & Johnson to Columbia-HCA hospitals, on developing successful corporate-based wellness plans. Recently, I conducted a series of employee health and fitness programs addressing such plans.

The seminars were designed to provide human-resource directors with a variety of adaptable employee health and fitness programs that are inexpensive and easy to implement. The point was to achieve the stated goals without having to take a lot of time to develop budgets and plans.

Here are some of the programs I have helped to implement for local companies:

HJ Heinz World Headquarters in the USX Tower has 120 employees. When Janet Burke of Heinz was told to come up with a program that would have a positive impact on employee morale, she started by looking into programs that would improve fitness and provide opportunities for employees to interact through sports and pleasure activities.

What began as nothing more than phone calls to try and set up discounts for Heinz employees to join local clubs took an unexpected turn when she contacted me at The City Club.

Heinz decided to pay for all of the world headquarters employees to have access to The City Club, but the company also knew a large percentage would never actually use the club on a regular basis. So, in return for the corporate membership, we also agreed to provide on-site seminars, create home health/fitness programs for those people who wouldn't go to a health club, and to help organize a volleyball league and a walking club.

"In less than 60 days, we are further along than we would have been in six months if we had to do all of this on our own," Burke says.

HJ Heinz chose a program option known as capitation, an insurance model that prices a service based on expected usage. By paying for a percentage of the 175 total employees at World Headquarters, all Heinz employees have access to The City Club.

Certainly, health clubs are not for everyone. When a company decides to offer employee fitness programs through the club, my job is to be creative in reaching those who will not be comfortable using the facility. In truth, those who are first to join the club are usually the ones who need it the least, especially in the eyes of the company.

With an Access Membership, we make sure all employees have access to the information, education, and motivation we are trained to deliver. It isn't only the key difference in how we do business, it's also the key ingredient for making corporate fitness work.

Other companies do not have capitation as a viable option. As one local human-resource director told me recently, "We are not in a position where we can offer memberships, having over 6,000 downtown employees and locations in multiple states."

But even these companies see education and motivation as the keys to success, and not just providing exercise programs and health screenings. Some of these companies have worked out arrangements with The City Club where we will perform monthly educational/motivational seminars for those employees who want to attend.

Several other human-resource directors have told me their main goal is to reduce employee absenteeism due to illness, specifically cardiovascular disease which could be reduced through lifestyle changes. By conducting health screenings that include cholesterol and other health measurements which can be affected through changes in lifestyle, these companies raise awareness within the workforce. Often, insurance providers will arrange for these assessments, and groups such as St. Francis' Health Systems Center for Preventive Cardiology are also available to consult on these issues.

Another option is partial subsidy of memberships. The Pittsburgh office of Specialty Consultants, an executive search firm in real estate and construction, subsidizes half of the membership costs for employees as well as assists through payroll deduction for the remaining portion. Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce members and their employees also receive special corporate rates, for instance, simply by calling the City Club and identifying themselves as Chamber members.

Five Star Development Inc., a nationally known corporate Website development firm, is trading out Website development services in return for memberships for its employees.

Any company, regardless of its size, can create a successful health and fitness program that improves employees' health, and reduces overhead. The return on investment is positive almost every time. All it takes is a desire on the part of someone of influence within the organization.

Don Foxe is the director of member services for The City Club, a health and fitness club in downtown Pittsburgh.