These programs are making workers fitter

"You could put in a very expensive fitness facility, but if you don't get to the heart of what motivates the employee, you'll get a 12-week use of it followed by a major attrition," says Nicolette Shriver, health coach supervisor for Eden Prairie, MN-based Cigna. Here are fitness programs that occupational health professionals have implemented to keep employees fit:

  • Employees receive a personal trainer.
    Chandler, AZ-based Intel Corp. is working to make access to its prevention programs "easy and affordable," says Karen Griffith, global health, well-being and productivity senior program manager. She points to the company's "Three-Step Wellness Check" program, which annually monitors employees' biometrics — basic vital signs, body mass index, blood sugar, and lipid panel — and asks them to complete a health risk assessment questionnaire. Of Intel's 45,000 employees, 17,000 went through the program in its first year. "We are hoping to do even more this year," says Griffith.
    If the employee completes the three-step program, he or she is given a $50 gift card and also provided with health coaching and a free personal trainer. Griffith says that there is currently no limit on how many hours of free personal training employees can use, and that there is one trainer for every 5,000 employees.
    "The coach reviews the health risks and guides people into programs we have at the sites, including fitness programs, to target the issues the employee has," says Griffith. "This year, we have had over 12,000 employees participate in the U.S. We have also begun offering the program at three new international sites."
  • Employees walk in teams.
    Employees of the City of Charleston (SC) get together after work or during lunch to walk together. The person who has logged the most minutes of walking time is given a $25 sports store gift card, with one winner chosen each quarter. "This encourages employees to get moving on their lunch breaks," says Jan Park, RN, the city's wellness program coordinator. "We incentivized employees by giving free pedometers to the first 50 people that joined." Of 1,750 employees, about 75 participated.
  • Employees identify their motivation.
    "All of Cigna's coaching programs are designed to discover each individual's personal motivation for change and then helping them make that change," says Shriver.
    For example, Cigna offers a verbal coaching program via telephone with six sessions or more, if needed, available to participants. The goal is not so much to educate employees about the benefits of fitness, because most of them already are aware it's good for their health. "If someone tells us they think they should exercise more, we then ask them, 'Why do you want to do that?' It makes them step back and think about why they really want this lifestyle change," says Shriver. It might be that an employee wants to play with their kids without getting winded, for instance.
    Instead of giving employees a regimen, "we allow them to creatively solve their problems," says Shriver, such as walking during a child's ball practice. "I had a lady say to me, 'You know what I could do? Instead of ordering lunch in every day, I could walk to a café a few blocks away and take the stairs on the way back.'"