In Conversation With Jane Riddell, Chief Operating Officer, GoodLife Fitness
February 10, 2014
Knightsbridge: How healthy are we at work?
Jane Riddell, Goodlife: If I were to look at this situation from a place of opportunity and advancement, I would say that we’ve seen a very positive shift in the last decade in terms of the climate, understanding and promotion of workplace wellness. Forward-thinking organizations in Canada understand that there is a tremendous benefit to investing in workplace wellness programs and making that a core part of their business strategy. Those are the folks that get it.
Unfortunately, I would say that as a collective, the workplace wellness efforts in corporate Canada are still in need of improvement. The health issues that are associated with having a sedentary lifestyle or little in the way of regular physical activity coupled with poor nutrition affect all workplaces.
The basic health issues surrounding heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 diabetes coupled with the issues related to the workplace such as stress, deadlines, and the challenge to create work-life balance create an essential need for wellness in the workplace. In many cases, workplaces are struggling to provide the basic safety requirements for employees, so providing a healthy environment becomes a secondary concern.
Knightsbridge: Should employers take on the responsibility of helping people live a healthier lifestyle if they can’t do that on their own outside work hours?
JR: My first thought is that it would be quite difficult to evaluate what an employee’s behaviour is outside of the workplace. Sun Life completed a survey in 2013 and found that 92 per cent of companies actually recognized that the health of their employees influences overall corporate performance. So, it would follow that companies would benefit greatly from investing in the total health of their employees and recognize that there is a negative impact of having an unfit workforce.
I don’t believe that the employer should take complete responsibility for their employees’ health; that is not realistic. It should be a partnership and a shared responsibility with the employees. The employers’ role is to provide the opportunities and the supportive environment for employees to embrace a healthy lifestyle whether that is through walking programs, an onsite fitness facility, healthy food choices, or a corporate fitness club membership.
We know that there are tremendous benefits that accrue to the organization when a wellness program is put into place and is successful, including a tremendous financial benefit. I think that providing the opportunity for employees to work out at work or encouraging them to invest in their own health through incentive programs, are strategies that appear to have the greatest impact.
I think that wellness is more than just being physically active. It’s also being mentally well. The topic of mental wellness is becoming more and more prevalent, as it should be, as people are starting to talk more about conditions that evolve from being unhealthy at work – depression or anxiety for example. These can have a very negative impact on the corporate bottom line, but also on the workplace environment. Speaking on behalf of GoodLife, we think that it is the responsibility of the corporation to ensure that people are healthy and well at work and have a safe environment that promotes good living.
Knightsbridge: What makes a successful workplace wellness program?
JR: At the GoodLife Fitness Health & Wellness Leadership Summit we recognized companies that are doing a great job in the area of workplace wellness. These companies have incorporated employee health and wellness into their overall business strategy, so they’ve made it sustainable and integrated.
A really good wellness plan needs to be supported at all levels of an organization, beginning with the senior leadership team. Often these initiatives evolve out of human resources departments and they often fail because the leadership team doesn’t understand the value and therefore does not support them. To ensure success, organizations need to secure leadership team support and have them act as active and vocal champions of the programs while tying the value back to the organizational goals. Leadership teams need to support these initiatives in action and also with the financial investment required.
It’s a great start for companies to encourage their employees to be active, but if you don’t allocate financial resources to the programming, they won’t be successful. Having said that, there’s no point in the leadership getting out there and just preaching to people because that approach is not going to work either. It really has to be something that employees buy into.
A great way to do that is by talking to people, surveying them and finding out what your employees want, what they value, what they think will have an impact and then taking a look at how you can create an environment that will help get employees the results and outcomes they are hoping for. You’ve got to get some quick wins. There’s nothing more addictive than success, so if you can demonstrate some impact and get key people involved in programs then employees will start to feel the benefit and that’s when you start to see real traction in the programs.
Knightsbridge: Which is the biggest challenge, the organizational culture or individual lack of motivation?
JR: That’s a great question. I think if we knew the answer, we would be a lot further ahead. I believe that barriers are often the lack of support from the leadership team or financial limitations. I think it is imperative for workplace wellness to be incorporated into your core business strategy.
Sometimes a group of enthusiastic employees gets together to spearhead a great wellness initiative and then experiences great disappointment when no one attends. Since it is a short-term vision and it isn’t tied into the long-term business strategy, there isn’t necessarily support from the leadership team, so employees don’t understand the value or feel encouraged to participate. I believe that it is critical that an organization makes a longer-term commitment for workplace wellness to be a part of the company’s culture or corporate environment over the next five or ten years to ensure the success of the program.
Also, returning to the idea of surveying and finding out the areas of greatest need, do we need ergonomic programs or back care programs? Do we need smoking cessation programs? Do we need stress relief programs? Should we be looking at yoga and teaching people to meditate? You really have to have your finger on the pulse of your employees because what will work for one company won’t necessarily work for another, and within large companies you have different groups of people who require different things. Trying to slap one program in place and hope that it meets the needs of the entire group, while well intentioned, can be a very misguided approach.
Knightsbridge: Rather than just offering an opportunity, as an employer, at some point do you tell somebody that they need something?
JR: I think that one of the most important things an employer can do is complete a comprehensive health risk assessment on your company, it will tell you where you need to focus. Once the survey is complete, you need to engage your employees and explain why you completed the survey and the results that you got. You have to say to your employees, here’s where the need is, and here’s how we can help you get from where you are right now to where you need & want to be. A big part of that success is communication and marketing the benefits and getting the buy-in.
The biggest message I want to send here is that here’s no point in giving people what they’re not going to use. You’re doomed to fail from the outset if you haven’t done your research. If you can get some key people involved – some ambassadors and influencers – some people who are really going to shout it from the rooftops and are respected in the organization, you are bound to be successful. And like I mentioned, you have to get leaders at all levels involved and taking ownership.
It is important to remember that no amount of communication is going to work if you don’t have a great plan. We experience this in our company all the time. Communication is probably one of our biggest challenges. We know we have to communicate in many different ways through many different channels in order to capture people’s attention and get them to understand what’s happening and why. For our team we’ve learned that nothing works better than word of mouth
Knightsbridge: Are there times when you go to somebody and say, “We’re concerned about your health, I need you to do this?”
JR: At GoodLife, as an incentive to working with us, our employees receive a complimentary membership. As a part of this membership, we require that our people work out a minimum of two to three times per week. To be quite honest, though, it’s not part of our performance review process, so it’s not something that’s considered when we talk about people’s performance necessarily. It’s part of our culture, so you have to buy into it, but we don’t monitor it or track it but we do encourage it. We want our people to be healthy and fit in whatever way they choose to do that.
In other companies, if you’re a caring individual and you have people who are working with you who are not taking care of their health, I think you have a moral responsibility to sit down with them and say, “I’m worried about you. We have some great opportunities for you to take part in, including programs or services that I think would really benefit you” and support them to take the time to care for themselves.
That caring approach will have more of an impact rather than sitting down with someone and telling him or her, “This is part of your job, you have to do this.” That doesn’t really seem to work anymore. In my mind, telling people what they need to do is a thing of the past.
Knightsbridge: If you have nothing, if there’s no dialogue going on about health and wellness, where does an organization start to engage employees on that issue?
JR: The first step to engaging a professional organization is to ensure that they start off down the right path. Doing a lot of trial and error is costly and can kill initiative along with desire pretty quickly. You want to ensure that you get some quick wins.
Aside from that, it’s really about educating the key decision-makers in the company as to what the benefit of a company wellness program can be. There is so much information and so much statistical evidence out there supporting it, that it really is an easy choice once they become educated. And from there, it’s determining what will work for that organization and that group of employees, and then making sure that you have not only senior leadership support, but also employee buy-in.
I think the other critical piece is that you have to measure it – you can’t manage what you can’t measure. You have to have benchmarks and checkpoints to ensure that everyone involved can recognize and feel good about the results.
Knightsbridge: What else do you do at GoodLife to make sure that people are living the corporate culture of health and wellness?
JR: We have seven core values that we base all our behaviours and decisions on: Caring, Trust, Integrity, Peak Attitude, Passion, Personal Fitness, and Happiness. So Personal Fitness is obviously a key component of our culture. We typically attract people who already understand the benefit of being active and we provide state-of-the-art facilities for them to work out in. We also provide time during the day for people to do that, so it’s really encouraged that people have a workout during the middle of the day because we know that it helps keep people fresh, motivated, engaged and focused, and improves productivity along with morale.
As I mentioned, an added benefit to working with GoodLife is that all of our employees get free access to our clubs. We also give every employee two memberships at a great rate to give to friends or family, and those are simply because we understand that if you have support in your personal life, you’re more likely to continue to work out on a regular basis.
In terms of helping people achieve work-life balance, because work can be a fairly stressful place, we try to equip our people with tools that help them deal with stress. Our workforce tends to be a little bit young and somewhat inexperienced. A lot of them are right out of school and they may work on the frontline in our Clubs for a year or more before they get promoted to management.
One of the most challenging things for managers, both young and older, to deal with is conflict, so we provide a training program called Crucial Accountability which enables them to have a step-by-step process to deal with inappropriate behavior. From the feedback we’ve received, that’s probably one of the best things that we’ve ever done for our people. It’s helped them so much in terms of their confidence in dealing with difficult situations and difficult people. I think it’s had a really positive impact for us.
In addition, we have a Solutions-Focused Coaching training available for our management teams. It is a program that teaches the managers how to ask their teams effective questions, so that the teams and individuals can come up with their own solutions. As a result, we find that everyone is more effective.
The final piece would be that we have a very comprehensive Employee Assistance Program. It’s a free service that we offer to our employees and it helps people find resources to help them deal with everything: new babies, caring for an ailing parent, financial assistance in terms of planning and budgeting. It can help you find a daycare, somebody to look after your dog, those kinds of things, or it can help you if you have a tragedy in your life – it’s trying to take a lot of the stress out of the day-to-day lives of our people. It’s a very widely used resource and we’re really proud of that.