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The No-Red-Tape Approach to Corporate Wellness

by Trina Gray on Jan 21, 2013


Get to the business of doing what you do best: inspiring change.

Corporate wellness is the “elephant in the room” in our industry. You can ignore it. You can dance around it and say it’s not your thing.

Or you can embrace it: Learn to dominate in this fast-growing field by putting your skills and passion to work for workplaces. There is room for creativity, so don’t worry about what you know or don’t know, or about a lack of standard resources. Armed with the five simple tips in this article, you can inspire real change in a workplace, impact your bottom line and grow your brand.

It’s a Red-Tape World

Traditional corporate wellness programs typically require that you seek approvals—from human resources, on-site wellness committees and insurance providers. Once the plan is OK’d by management, you have to communicate it to the employees, with your fingers crossed that they will participate. If employees don’t embrace it, they get either a carrot or a stick from their employer, depending on the organization’s philosophy.

I refer to this lackluster strategy as “red tape corporate wellness.” Years ago, I approached local school administrators about launching a corporate wellness program for their staff. The superintendent told me that they had “I.T. issues to deal with, but maybe next school year.” That type of response is very common. Although wellness strategies should be a top priority, other projects come first. Meanwhile, employee health and happiness decline.

But let’s say you do get in the door and you offer year-round brown bag lunch talks, fruit baskets, on-site stretching clinics and wellness profiles. What happens? The program fizzles, and the champions go back to the drawing board and come up with new rules and rewards. These efforts all fail for the same reason: because they’re boring and logistical, and they don’t inspire change. They are simply fliers, paycheck stuffers and posters in the break room.

There is another way. Make your program a special event. Make it about the people. In my community, we have led 118 corporate fitness challenges in 3 years, and I have seen hundreds of trainers and clubs do the same. A great example: Leanne Zdebiak-Eni, a trainer and instructor in Courtenay, British Columbia, turned Island Pilates and Fitness into a hub for corporate wellness by offering short challenges with four critical elements of success: coaching, teams, accountability and fun. Leanne went from having no experience in corporate wellness (other than offering discounts) to being a go-to person for wellness and a perceived expert. She led a successful challenge with her local fire department, and that opened the door to others.

You too can learn from the following secrets to success.

Start It and Finish It

Offer wellness challenges with a kickoff and a finale. I recommend 6 weeks. Shorter, focused programs will boost excitement, deliver tangible results and increase participation in the company’s year-round efforts. Your goal is not to become the company’s only wellness provider; your goal is to be the game-changer.

With this approach, you’ll create lasting relationships with the participants—and you may retain them as long-term clients or members, if your business model allows. You can book an entire year of 6-week challenges and create an ongoing feeder system for your business.

Paint the Picture

Appeal directly to the employees’ emotions, future, health and relationships. Leave the company’s bottom line and rising insurance premiums out of the dialogue. Paint the picture that wellness is a better way of life.

Share success stories about your clients who have lost weight, gained energy or overcome injury. Go beyond the numbers. Share how their relationships have changed; how they are happier; and how they travel more.

To get people in the right frame of mind, start the presentation with rhetorical questions like the following. These are tough, but they cut to the heart of the matter:

  • Do you dread or avoid your annual physical?
  • Do you take medication that you wish you didn't need?
  • Do you lack energy at the end of the day?
  • Do you struggle to prepare your family's meals?
  • Have you been carrying around extra weight for a long time?
  • Is your health declining? Are you living with aches and pains?
  • Are you worried about your health, or the health of a loved one?
  • How is your marriage? Are you happy in your relationships? Are you happy with yourself?

Then, in your own words, tell them something like this: “I'm here today to help you make the changes you’ve been struggling with. Tackling change on your own is daunting; doing it with others, however, is a lot easier. How many people can say that their health is better now than it was 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years ago? Not many. But you will. At the end of the challenge, when we gather around the table to celebrate, you will have a success story to share.”

Don’t Sell Logistics

Rattling off the details of your corporate fitness program won't sell it. Details confuse people and give them excuses not to accept a challenge. Sure, at some point you’ll need to tell them what the plan includes. But don’t lead with it. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why (Penguin 2011), writes, connect with their Why. Once they believe that they deserve better, they’ll be ready to sign up for whatever you create for them. Of course, deliver on your promise. I trust that you know how to get people to fall in love with fitness and fuel their bodies with healthier food. This is just about packaging it correctly.

Go into your presentation believing that the company is going to proceed. Tell your audience that you've reserved a start date 2 weeks after today’s presentation. Everyone is motivated and inspired to act now, so let them. At the end of the presentation, when you are answering questions, hand out applications.

Adopt the Friends-and-Family Plan

Traditional worksite wellness focuses on employees and their spouses. The reality is that people are more likely to adopt lasting change if they can include their “inner circle.” Urge participants to invite friends, family, walking buddies and neighbors. People will choose to participate and they’ll willingly pay for it, just as they would sign up for a summer softball league. I encourage employers to pay for half of the fee, but I don’t require it. Take that obstacle away.

Use What You Already Have

Are you wondering how to get in the door? The answer: Use your own business! Make a list of your raving fans. Talk to each one of them, and say that you’d like to organize a fun challenge with their co-workers, friends and family. Ask them to help you coordinate it. They’ll look like heroes. You can certainly work with management to promote the program, but don’t run your business on someone else’s schedule. If a company’s management isn’t ready for wellness, its employees still might be!

Run this program with or without a team, and with or without a facility. Take the resources you have, compile them into a 6-week offering and let it roll.

Here is what your program might include:

  • individualized workout plans
  • clean-eating food plans
  • food and exercise journals
  • weekly group workouts (your place, their place, a parking lot, a church)
  • small-group personal training
  • at-home fitness videos
  • access to your facility, boot camps or training
  • teams within the workplace
  • email coaching, phone coaching, live coaching
  • rewards, recognition

Another great example: After adopting these simple strategies, Tim and Liz Rhode, owners of the Maryland Athletic Club in Baltimore, have experienced membership growth. They’ve renewed their team energy, and they’ve built dozens of new relationships with businesses.

You now have permission to blow past formal proposals, pedometer contests and “lunch ’n’ learns” to do something remarkable. Implement the secrets, be a professional and make the leap. Workplaces need you.

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About the Author

Trina Gray

Trina Gray IDEA Author/Presenter

I love combining my background in communications and journalism with my passion for fitness to set communities on FIRE with fitness. I'm married to a funloving archaeologist, a mom of two creative kid...