The verdict came in years ago that an active, healthy work force is a productive one. And firms across the country have bought into the message. A 2004 survey of 354 U.S. companies by the American Management Association indicates that 31 percent of employers surveyed increased their participation in company-sponsored health and wellness programs. Many offer discounts for employees on health club memberships; almost a quarter of those surveyed have exercise facilities on the premises. But are the decision makers at those companies getting the religion themselves? Are employees likely to see their bosses next to them on the treadmills or are business leaders themselves too busy to pay attention to their own health?
While there is substantial data showing that exercise reduces absenteeism and health-care costs, no one is tracking how many corporate executives or business owners themselves are working out to be more productive. Local health and fitness professionals say it's a mixed bag. "Most of the senior execs we see here have a driven lifestyle approach. They're very self-disciplined and competitive, and they perceive that staying in shape is something they need to do to stay ahead. They're the ones driving the rest of their companies to work out," says Greg Rowe, president of California Fitness.
That local chain of fitness gyms markets heavily to business clients. More than 20 percent of its clients are corporate members who receive a discounted rate through an agreement between California Fitness and their employers. But other heath and fitness experts say they see a lot of very driven people who are so busy with their businesses that they neglect their bodies.
"The bottom line is preventative medicine is very inexpensive. Post-event medicine is very expensive. But people don't act on that - they take better care of their lawn mowers than their own bodies," says Steve Devor, an associate professor and exercise physiologist with Ohio State University's department of Sport and Exercise Sciences. A new program at the OSU's Fisher College of Business aims to get executives on board those treadmills with a new program called Fit to Lead.
It's an extensive physical fitness assessment that helps participants evaluate their state of physical fitness and also refine and reach personal fitness goals. "We reasoned that to be an effective leader you have to also consider your health. It's important that you able to be at the office and not out with an ailment," says Lisa Antolino, Fisher's director of marketing and outreach.
The $400 program includes a battery of physical trials, including tests of participant's aerobic capacity, strength and flexibility, body fat composition, cholesterol and blood pressure testing and other medical screenings. A week later, participants return for an hour-long review of the results. Devor and his staff explain the results and create a total fitness program tailored around the individual's goals.
Though the fitness evaluations are available to anyone, OSU is marketing the program especially through its master's of business adminstration programs and to the business community "The idea is that executives pay a lot of attention to their corporations, but not themselves. We also know they are in a position of influence to say to their employees, you should do this assessment, and by the way, we are going to pay for it," she says.
Devor says business folks find great motivation in being shown exactly how to maximize the time that they have in their day to get what they want out of their workouts. "They're no longer just milling around in the gym relying on goofy info from some magazine. This is real solid scientific advice. They would never dream of running a meeting that way, why would they want to manage their human machine that way?" Devor says.
Melissa Klug says motivation was exactly her goal in going through the program. Klug, a master's of business administration candidate at Fisher and also marketing manager at MeadWestvaco in Chillicothe, says shoehorning workouts into her busy schedule requires enormous willpower. The very act of committing the money and time to the assessment, and finding out, in her words, "how much of a train wreck I am," were exactly the motivation she sought. "To have a plan is very helpful. I did no weight training going in. I needed to understand more about it, and now I have a specific plan throughout the week," she says.
Klug says she has observed that among her peers, not many are taking steps to stay in shape. She is, she says, the only member of her graduating class to go in and take the assessment. But Devor also sees lot of execs in the community who are as driven in their personal lives as they are in business.
Greg Pinchbeck might fit in that category. The Bank One vice president and former collegiate swimmer has worked out regularly for decades, and wanted to assess exactly where he was and if there was anything else he could do to maximize his time spent in the gym, so he turned to Devor. Like many executives, Pinchbeck says he's a numbers guy, and the quantifiable results and goals of the assessment were appealing.
"Here was someone at a major university with a Ph.D., not someone reading Men's Fitness for the flavor of the month," he says. "Now I know every minute I'm in the gym, I'm doing the right exercises to get where I want to go, and I never knew that before based on my present condition and science, not fads." Devor says he's observing that those in leadership roles are slowly waking up to the importance of staying healthy.
"The message is starting to get through that you're in a leadership role, a lot of people are depending on you, so again or a (chief operating officer or chief financial officer), for lack of a better term, to go down, be incapacitated, that can be more important to a corporation than if a lower or middle manager does," he says. That particular trend is reflected partly by the growing number of companies that have opened on-site fitness centers.
Verizon Wireless, for example, invested $250,000 in a new fitness facility at its Emerald Parkway headquarters in Dublin this past October. Employees can join for $15 a month and have access to everything from workout equipment to yoga classes, massages and health and wellness information. Dwayne Clarke is the coach, or manger, of the new facility, and he says Verizon's is committed to employee wellness.
"Since Verizon first opened its first employee fitness center 15 years ago, our (Chief Exeuctive Officer Dennis Strigl) has logged over 1,700 visits himself," Clarke says. This level of commitment is often found at other companies with in-house fitness centers, where just as at Verizon, the CEO can be seen on the elliptical machine right along with customer service reps.
Few if any insurance plans offer incentives to individual policyholders such as discounts for those participating in wellness programs or fitness clubs, though some self-insured companies do. But the bottom-line benefits to keeping one's waistline trim, say those in the fitness industry, are catching on. "There are tangible benefits and intangible ones," says Pinchbeck. "Working out is an opportunity to disconnect and get away from a stressful environment. I don't know how you measure that."