Workplace Wellness: Opportunities for Fitness Pros

by Shirley Archer, JD, MA on Jun 21, 2018

“Employers are looking for partners to provide experiences and solutions in social, emotional, financial, family and career growth and well-being,” says Grace DeSimone, national group fitness director with Plus One Health Management, an Optum company, in New York City. Companies are also embracing mindfulness, meditation and virtual solutions for telecommuting employees, according to DeSimone. All these changes represent an evolution from programs aimed primarily at improving physical health and controlling healthcare costs.

Research confirms that America’s largest corporations are addressing these wellness challenges. According to 2017 survey data from the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments, which includes responses from 141 large and mid-sized companies,

  • 95% of surveyed companies have physical well-being programs;
  • 87% have emotional health programs; and
  • 84% have financial security programs.

Companies also support communities and nonprofits by promoting team-building volunteer programs, matching charitable donations and organizing cause-based collection drives (NBGH 2017).

How can fitness pros take advantage of the shifting workplace wellness landscape? We’ll show why change is happening and then dive into actionable ideas for finding and keeping corporate wellness clients.

The Expanding Definition of Wellness

Landing corporate wellness clients requires an understanding of the forces behind the push for more-holistic programs. Drivers of the corporate wellness culture movement include

  • a growing realization that traditional disease-management programs don’t address the full scope of wellness;
  • more people having employer-sponsored health insurance coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act; and
  • higher corporate profits providing more discretionary income to businesses (Turk 2016).

In years past, corporate wellness programs focused primarily on disease management for “high-risk” employees with heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome or other chronic diseases—because workers and companies shared a motivation to reduce healthcare costs (Archer 2012). Today, employers see wellness as a means to improve their return on investment.

“The bigger opportunity for ROI is to improve mental and physical thriving, which leads to more energy, creativity, resilience, productivity and loyalty,” says Margaret Moore, aka “Coach Meg.” Moore is CEO of Wellcoaches® Corp. and co-directs the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate in Belmont, Massachusetts.

The trend also reflects the reality that traditional disease-management programs are not particularly motivating. “Employees are tired of being told that if they are unhealthy, it is 100% their fault,” says Patty Purpur de Vries, MS, who directs the Stanford Health Promotion Network at Stanford Medicine WellMD Center in Silicon Valley.

The current variety of company wellness services—among them, financial counseling, treadmill workstations or “sit-to-stand” ergonomic desks, and community charity drives—points to a shift from disease management to wellness enhancement and a movement from a top-down directive approach to a more organic engagement model.

Exploring Corporate Wellness Opportunities

Wellness professionals are finding work in a broad spectrum of companies. For instance, large companies tend to have in-house wellness departments. Some have chief wellness officers and on-site medical clinics. Large and medium-sized corporations often work with external corporate wellness service providers like DeSimone’s parent company, Optum, which operates more than 2,000 group fitness classes for companies across the United States and Puerto Rico.

In contrast, Angel Chelik, ACE-certified health coach and founder of WorkBetter Wellness in San Diego, started her own business in 2010 to help local companies.

“In the past 5 years, I’ve seen an evolution. [Now there are] more entrepreneur fitness pros who serve businesses directly, rather than working with corporate subcontractors at large companies, and who even approach nontraditional settings, like co-working spaces,” Chelik says. These entrepreneurs offer everything from weekly on-site classes to comprehensive wellness programs.

Tamara Smith, industrial ergonomist and NASM-certified personal trainer in Long Beach, California, developed a comprehensive program after a local company approached her. She turned the “Industrial Athlete Program” she created for her initial business client into a turnkey model.

Thinking Smaller

Experts agree that smaller companies may present opportunities to entrepreneurial fitness professionals.

“Small employers want the same stuff that medium and large employers have, but [small businesses] are challenged with resources,” says Jessica Grossmeier, vice president of research at the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). “There are also differences in meaningful outcomes. The smaller an employer is, the more painful health-related absences and disability leaves are in terms of business impact.

“And, regardless of size, most employers are interested in attracting and retaining top talent. In Silicon Valley, small employers use wellness as one benefit to attract employees and to support their performance once employed.”

Fitness professionals who want to work in corporate wellness—whether for a large corporate wellness service provider or as an entrepreneur—must understand all the components. “Additional knowledge in areas beyond fitness is critical,” says DeSimone. “Hybrid roles like group fitness instructor/personal trainer or registered dietitian/wellness coach are more common in the corporate environment. There are many opportunities available to professionals who want to add these skills to their resumés.”

Moore agrees. “Becoming a certified coach enables the fitness professional to align with healthcare and clinical settings. Fitness pros who become trained and certified in coaching start by moving from personal training to a combo personal training and coaching practice. The balance of ‘physical coaching’ and ‘mental coaching’ is attractive in a combo practice.”

An alternative to becoming a hybrid professional is having a strong colleague network. Brett Klika, CSCS, co-founder of SPIDERfit Kids in San Diego, notes that developing such a network is valuable for fitness entrepreneurs because companies want all-encompassing programs that require expertise in more categories than one person can provide.

For more information, including a description of Tamara Smith’s turnkey program, please see “Corporate Fitness Evolves” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2018 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.