By Joey Lee
The difference it makes when health and fitness are part of the culture of a company, not just an add-on.
Research proves time and again that healthy employees are more productive, take fewer sick days, cost their employers less in insurance rates and claims and are generally happier than their couch potato counterparts. So why don’t more companies encourage a climate of health and fitness? I wish I knew. One local company that not only encourages such a climate, but has made it an integral part of their corporate culture, is Madison County-based Bomgar.
“Bomgar specializes in the software used by IT technical support professionals to fix computers over the Internet,” said Joel Bomgar, founder and CEO of the company.
“Our software lets tech people securely connect to any computer in the world, with the user’s permission, and the techie is able to see the screen, move the mouse and type on the keyboard to fix the issues with the remote computer.” Bomgar is number one worldwide in market share for this type of technology used by large businesses.
Bomgar, founded in 2003, has more than 200 employees worldwide, with the majority located at their headquarters.
Joel and the other founders knew early on they wanted to create a culture that emphasized a healthy lifestyle, and from the beginning started applying this philosophy to nurture a work/life balance that made sure their employees had plenty of time with their families.
“Over time we extended that view encouraging employees to have a healthy life in terms of personal finances, and then, the next piece of the puzzle was physical health and fitness, which we really started to focus on four or five years ago,” said Joel.
Executives realized there was already a lot of interest in health and fitness within the company. Many staff members were taking time to run or work out at lunch, before or after work and some were riding their bikes to the office. To build on this, management took another step that became very popular. An informal fitness room was set up so employees could bring their own fitness equipment from home.
From there, other measures were taken to encourage and promote an atmosphere conducive to being active and fit. “The first thing we did was change our dress code which already allowed jeans and t-shirts to include shorts and workout gear,” explained Joel. “The second thing we did was install showers in the office so any employee that wanted to, could shower after a workout, a run or biking to work.”
All of this led in to a three-year long “B-Healthy” wellness program designed to encourage personal fitness and a healthy lifestyle among Bomgar employees. The points-based program offered employees cash incentives, up to $250 a quarter, depending upon how many points they earned.
Points could be achieved through various activities such as getting an annual physical, preventive dental exams, getting a flu shot, participating in a road race (running, walking or biking), not using tobacco products and taking part in a smoking cessation program. Employees got points for attending lunchtime “Care24” sessions and for participating in an exercise program and fitness classes. One way to earn points, (my personal favorite and one I’m sure everyone can appreciate) is what they called, “Off the Grid.” Employees were given points for disabling their Bomgar email accounts while taking three or more consecutive days off.
The success of this program is shown in the number of employees who are now health and wellness enthusiasts and routinely participate in various events held in the community. “By the way, I believe Bomgar has won the trophy for largest team at the St. Paddy’s Day 5k two years in a row,” Joel added.
When asked what made the company want to embrace health and fitness as part of their corporate culture, Joel explained, “It’s really a win-win.
Healthy and fit employees have more energy, get sick less and have lower healthcare costs than employees that are not fit and healthy.
Additionally, the better everyone feels, the better they’re able to focus and be productive while at work. Health and fitness is a big driver of satisfaction with life and work, so employees feel better about themselves and their work as well. There are really a ton of upsides both from an employee perspective as well as an employer perspective.”
And Joel doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk as well. Since his life is incredibly busy, running a highly successful company, being a husband and father of three young children, he has to be creative in getting his workouts in. He rides his bike to work whenever possible and he has a LifeSpan treadmill desk so he can walk while working. “On nice days I try to turn one-on-one meetings into ‘walking meetings’ where we walk around the outside of our office complex and talk versus just sitting in a conference room. I find that walking tends to stimulate creativity and great dialog better than just sitting across the table from each other for an hour.”
He attributes the success of creating this culture of health and fitness to backing it up with something people value. “Nothing encourages participation and communicates that you’re serious like associating additional compensation with the wellness program,” Joel said. “I’d highly recommend anyone doing a wellness program include a cash compensation component, at least initially, to encourage participation and make it clear you’re serious about it.”
Unfortunately not all companies have a culture that truly includes a health and fitness aspect. But just because they don’t is no excuse. If you want it, try creating the change from within starting with yourself. After all, what is a corporate culture but the fusion of all the employees’ beliefs and actions? Follow Joel’s example and fit it in when and where you can. I would bet you wouldn’t be the only one, and you may just start a wave within your own company.