Yes, You Can

Health is all the rage in business these days. Which is to say that many companies are actively promoting healthier employee lifestyles. Or at least they’re trying.

Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

They’re motivated, of course, by a pressing need to regain some control of their companies’ out-of-control healthcare-related expenses. And as a chief executive of a corporation with more than 10,000 employees, I can certainly relate. The fact is, spiraling healthcare costs hurt everyone — including employees whose rising share of those costs presents a very real financial burden for them and their families.

An even more important consideration for all involved, though, is that an unhealthy workforce is also a suffering workforce. Each company with staggering medical costs represents more than a fiscal loss: It represents a host of individuals who are living at less than optimal vitality, who are struggling with chronic disease and discomfort, whose prospects of both professional success and life happiness are limited by their compromised health and fitness.

So it makes sense that the world of business has become invested in employee health. But, in my view, too many companies have been paying lip service to health priorities even as they’ve been failing to take simple but meaningful measures that could make a huge difference in their employees’ well-being.

I’m talking about measures like banning smoking on company property, reducing the availability of junk food and drinks in vending machines, and insisting that the food and drinks brought in for meetings and catered functions are of the healthy variety.

The reality is that not all these healthy changes are bound to be popular with all people, particularly at first. Even here at our own offices — the corporate headquarters of a leading health and fitness company — I’ve been astonished at how challenging it has been to upgrade the vending machine stock, to get healthier foods into meetings and to shift employee beverage preferences from soft drinks to water.

But we’ve made huge headway in the past couple years, and I’m proud to say that we banned smoking both in and around our buildings long before any law dictated it. We’ve also always offered free Life Time Fitness memberships to all our employees.

Clearly, having a company mission that revolves around helping people lead healthier lives compels us to walk our talk when it comes to our team members, but I’d still like to see our company — and every other employer in the United States — go even further.

To that end, I’d like to formally invite not just corporate employers, but also small-business owners, managers and team leaders of all kinds, to take a more proactive and progressive approach to encouraging healthy behaviors within their teams’ ranks.

Specifically, you might consider:

  • Advocating for the phasing out of junk foods in vending machines, cafeterias and break areas, and the phasing in of healthier, more wholesome options
  • Calling for healthy foods and drinks to be served at meetings
  • Subsidizing a portion of health-club membership dues for employees
  • Sponsoring athletic events and encouraging employees to volunteer or participate in them
  • Being an authentic advocate for healthy life balance, including time for family, workouts and stress-relief
  • Setting a healthy personal example

This last point is perhaps the most important. Whether you are a top executive or the head of a small creative team, you will have far more luck inspiring healthy lifestyle choices if you embody them yourself. Employees naturally look to their supervisors for an example of what they need to do to succeed.

So if you’re living on caffeine and sugar, and working so many hours you can’t squeeze in physical activity or relaxation, your employees will probably assume that to get anywhere in the company, they need to do that, too. And it’s unlikely any amount of well-meaning corporate urging will convince them to do otherwise.

You may not be able to dictate healthy life change, but you can educate, encourage and set an example for the people on whom your business depends. I hope this issue of Experience Life gives you some great ideas for getting started.

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