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Physical Fitness Equals Better Business

As a continuation of my column last week on "The Corporate Athlete", I was going to discuss practical ways to increase your physical energy at work. But I decided to save that for next week because I first want to show you how physical fitness can improve your performance at work and how it can also improve a company's fiscal fitness.

On the surface, it doesn't seem to make sense why a person who sits at a desk most of the day working on a computer or on office papers would need to be as fit as someone who does a more physically demanding job like working on a farm.

Performance psychologist Jim Loehr has a good explanation in his book "The Power of Full Engagement". "The importance of physical energy seems obvious for athletes, construction workers, and farmers. Because the rest of us are evaluated more by what we do with our minds than with our bodies, we tend to discount the role that physical energy plays in performance. In most jobs, the physical body has been completely cut off from the performance equation.

"In reality, physical energy is the most fundamental source of fuel, even if our work is almost completely sedentary. It not only lies at the heart of alertness and vitality but also affects our ability to manage our emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively, and even maintain our commitment to whatever mission we are on. Leaders and managers make a fundamental mistake when they assume that they can overlook the physical dimension of energy and still expect those who work for them to perform at their best"

What being fit can do for your performance
A Purdue University study of eighty executives found that those who exercised improved their ability to make complex decisions by 70% as compared with non-exercisers.

NASA found that participants in their corporate exercise program experienced improved stamina, work performance, enhanced concentration and decision making powers. 40% reported sounder sleep, 60% of them were successful at weight loss, 50% said they paid more attention to their diets, and many reported quitting or cutting down on smoking.

The Canada Life Assurance Company reported that 47% of participants in their fitness program were more alert, had better rapport with co-workers and supervisors, and enjoyed work more than those who did not participate. 63% indicated that they were more relaxed, more patient, and less tired during the work day.

Union Pacific Railroad found that 80% of its workers believed the company's exercise program helped to increase their productivity, and 75% felt that regular exercise was helping them to concentrate better at work.

A study by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising revealed that 63% of the employees enrolled in their fitness program believed that it improved their productivity; 75% said that it boosted their morale.

Economic benefits of a corporate fitness program
NASA found that when compared to the average office worker whose efficiency decreases 50% for the final two hours of the working day, the exercise participants worked at full efficiency all day. This amounted to a 12.5% increase in productivity.

DuPont experienced a 14% decline in disability days over the course of 24 months. Savings due to lower disability costs offset the program costs in the first year, and provided a return of $2.05 for every dollar invested. The company reduced absenteeism by 47.5% over six years for its corporate fitness participants.

The Coors Brewing Corporation found that it got as much as a $6.15 return for every $1 invested in a corporate fitness program. Companies including Equitable Life Assurance, PepsiCo, and Motorola have all reported at least a $3 return for every dollar invested.

General Mills found that participants in its employee fitness program had a 19% reduction in absenteeism compared to a 69% increase in non-participants.

At Kimberly-Clark, a 12-month survey of employees participating in the program showed a 43% drop in absenteeism.

Johnson and Johnson watched its absenteeism rate fall by 15% within two years of introducing its corporate fitness program. Participating employees had a 13% reduction in sick days while non-participants had a 9% increase. After three years, hospital costs for the firm had fallen by 34%.

General Electric reduced health care costs for members of its fitness program by 38% in an 18 month period, while non-members' health care costs rose 21%.

At Canada Life, the company average turnover rate of 15% dropped to 1.5% for those employees involved regularly in their fitness program.

General Motors found that employees who participated in a physical fitness program had a 50% reduction in job grievances and on-the-job accidents, and a 40% reduction in lost time.

Fitness is good for business
According to Dr. Dee Edington of the University of Michigan, "Wellness programs in general, and fitness programs in particular may be the only employee benefits which pay money back. When more people come to work, you don't need to pay overtime or temporary help; when people stay at the job longer, training costs go down; lower health care claims cost you less if you're self-insured - and health care insurers as well as some companies are already beginning to create premiums based on fitness levels."

If you work for a company that has a comprehensive program, good for you and good for your company. But ultimately, you are the one who is responsible for your health and fitness. Take the case of a small company that enrolled all their employees in our gym many years ago. The owner justified the expense by saying it would cost him much more to replace middle to top level executives if they died of a heart attack or stroke simply because they were fat and unfit (Xerox has calculated that it costs them one and a half million dollars to replace any of their top executives who die unexpectedly at a young age).

But in spite of the owner's concern, many of his employees would come only sporadically and some even tried to bribe our gym instructors to mark them as present when they would play hooky. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink it.

What made the companies mentioned above successful in their efforts to get their employees fit and healthy? The answers in a future column. Next week, simple tips to become more energetic at work.

Note: Statistics were gathered from reports of IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet, and Sports Association and the Canadian government's initiative "Business Case for Active Living at Work

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