Promoting fitness and wellness isn’t just good for your employees’ bodies; it’s good for business.
Editor’s Note: We received a study from our friends at CareerBuilder stating that the majority of U.S. workers feel they are overweight. (You can read our write-up on the results of the study here.) In this Q&A segment, Chris Brennan, SVP and General Counsel at NBTY, shared some of his thoughts on the study.
Forefront: Recently our friends at CareerBuilder shared results of a study focused on overweight employees. What are your thoughts on the study?
Christopher Brennan: With job functions increasingly sedentary in nature and technology extending the time and location boundaries of work demands, I did not find the data presented in the CareerBuilder study—particularly that 55 percent of workers in the survey characterize themselves as overweight—surprising. It is my opinion that while many employers express a desire for their employees to be more healthy and physically fit, in practice these are “nice-to-haves” that should in no way infringe upon the employees’ time spent in the office or being otherwise accessible to handle company matters. The result is that employees will often make a healthy lifestyle with a focus on physical fitness and weight management a low priority given their employers’ expectations and the demands in their personal lives.
Forefront: Is it important for leaders and managers to pay attention to their employees’ physical fitness? Why or why not?
Brennan: I think that it is incredibly important for leaders and managers to pay attention to their employees’ physical fitness, since a more physically fit workforce has proven time and again to be a happier, more productive workforce with a higher level of job satisfaction. A physically fit workforce also translates into less sick days taken, less disability claims, as well as lower health care costs for both employers and employees. I also think that it is imperative for leaders and managers to demonstrate the importance of physical fitness through example, specifically making physical fitness a priority in their own schedules.
In the end, however, it is each employee’s own responsibility to make physical fitness a priority and organize his/her work schedule to permit time to focus on physical fitness. I think that many employees would be pleasantly surprised by the tolerance and acceptance their employers will display when the employee is the one who takes the initiative to make physical fitness a priority.
Forefront: Do you have programs at NBTY that promote employee fitness?
Brennan: NBTY provides a variety of “onsite” physical fitness classes during the lunch hour or at the end of the workday, from yoga to kickboxing to Zumba, which its employees can attend. In addition, NBTY offers educational classes on weight management, stress reduction and healthy cooking, to name just a few subject matters.
Forefront: What benefits does being physically fit and healthy have in the workplace or in productivity?
Brennan: Employees who have made physical fitness and living a healthier lifestyle a focus bring an incredible amount of positive energy and “can-do” attitude to the workplace. This inevitably translates to a more efficient and enjoyable work environment where priorities are more readily set and achieved, and tolerance and teamwork become cornerstones to the overall “karma” in the workplace.
Forefront: What can other leaders, executives and managers do to encourage their team’s physical fitness?
Brennan: The biggest thing that leaders, executives and managers can do to encourage their team’s physical fitness is leadership by example. Team members who have a leader who makes physical fitness a priority are not only more likely to be encouraged to make it a priority for themselves, but also less likely to assume that their leader will not value this prioritization and think that it is diminishing the team member’s commitment to his/her employer and/or team.
The other thing that leaders can do to encourage their team’s physical fitness is to demonstrate tolerance not only to workplace schedules in order to allow time for team members to partake in physical fitness activities, but also tolerance as to the various paths that his/her team members may choose to reach their physical fitness goals. For example, while ballroom dancing may not be a part of everyone’s physical fitness repertoire, a leader should not explicitly or implicitly communicate that ballroom dancing is not as valuable or important as a physical activity in which that leader may partake.
Forefront: These are some great thoughts. Is there anything else employers should pay attention to in regard to their team’s physical health?
Brennan: While employers can, and should, encourage their employees to prioritize physical fitness, in the end it is each employee’s responsibility to make it a priority, regardless of the encouragement or lack thereof the employee may receive from his/her employer. While a memo, presentation or other work product is important, it is much more likely that in five years the employee’s physical health will leave a more lasting imprint on his/her life than that memo, presentation or other work product.
That is not to say that workplace responsibilities should not take an important place in an employee’s daily task prioritization, but that these responsibilities should always be kept in perspective and certainly should not be used as an excuse not to make physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle a priority.
Christopher Brennan is Senior Vice President and General Counsel at NBTY. Brennan was featured in Issue No. 11 of Forefront magazine.