As individuals, families and businesses, we need to become more aware of the risks we are taking daily, due to our unhealthy lifestyle. No matter how much money we make and how successful we are, the statistics published every year by several international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum and the UN, show that obesity and stress represent one of the largest global pandemics. The problem touches both poor and wealthy segments of our society.
The World Health Organization issued a warning that "a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world." Sedentary lifestyle, along with a poor diet, a too high level of stress at work, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
According to the World Health Organization, "60 to 85% of people in the world, from both developed and developing countries, lead sedentary lifestyles, making one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time."
As a business leader, working in the fitness and wellness arena, I'm observing the behavior of companies dealing with such issues and realizing that, the way they tackle the situation is not comprehensive.
The first thing that is problematic is that almost every company, when trying to implement a wellness program, looks to create a mathematical model based on a precise ROI. I understand that before we make any investment on an asset such as a corporate gym, restaurant or behavioral center, we need to put together a plan that highlights a cost -- a benefit analysis. I also believe that trying to box a project like this into a strict economical business model is not possible.
The implementation of a wellness -- lifestyle change program, cannot be compared to a CAPEX investment, similar to when we have to buy a manufacturing asset. And based on my experience this is not even the right approach.
Here we are talking about people, and a wellness model based on human behavior that helps people change their unhealthy lifestyle. It is a model designed for employees and managers, that encompasses what they eat, how they move, manage problems, interact with direct reports, peers, customers, or manage intense travel or meeting schedules (stress management).
A project like this requires, for sure an analysis of the business economics, such as for instance, how many sick days does the company have in a year, how much money and time do we invest on people that are leaving due to a stressful environment, track the number of mistakes and related costs made by managers that are always connected and never have time to unplug and refocus their minds, how much insurance costs are related to people with obesity related health issues, etc.
All these that I mentioned are issues and costs that can become key performance indicators, by which we can measure the efficacy of a wellness program once implemented.
A good way to look at a project like this is the following:
A) Awareness (study the environment and understand): we need to make sure we are aware of the cost implications produced by an environment where there is a high level of unnecessary pressure, stress, overweight or obese people. Including the correlation between highly stressed people and their inability to lose weight.
B) Analysis (reflect on the situation and gather detailed information): based upon awareness on the real situation of the work environment, we have to identify what are the costs associated to the highest negative health situations and behaviors. This part of the analysis needs to be led by HR along with a dedicated project manager.
C) Understand: Once we have reached an agreement on the few behaviors that need to be changed, the actual cost associated with those, and the KPI's (i.e. weight loss, reduction of people turnover due to stress, number of sick days), the next step is to identify how to develop a wellness -- lifestyle change program (what are the experts needed such as psychologist's, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, etc..)
While I will go more in depth on what for me are the technical aspects of the making of an effective corporate wellness project in the next article, I want here to draw my conclusions highlighting what are a few critical aspects of this approach.
To do this, I use my experience with Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
In some Buddhist practices there is only what is called "single point meditation", or basically the exercise of focusing on something and clear your mind from any kind of thoughts (i.e Zen Buddhism). Tibetan Buddhism uses the single point meditation to first clear the mind and create focus, but the core of the approach is analytical meditation.
The reason why analytical meditation is important is because it really helps, by bringing the object inside your heart and analyzing it, to explore with true mindfulness and awareness the deep nature of things.
The approach that I described before on how to handle and manage a corporate project, follows the same methodology. First you identify the environment and the specific issue (object), second you analyze it in all its aspects (from origins of the problem to cost. Causality), third you make an action plan that is grounded and based on true awareness of the causes and the effects of it, if left as is.
I'm really not trying to be philosophical here. As I often say, when presenting the opportunity to change from a negative to a positive environment, is all about people and wrong behaviors generated by particular situations not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
As business leaders, we have the goal to grow the business and position our brand strong in a market space which is much more dynamic and challenging than it use to be a few years ago. This uncertainty has brought more pressure to our organizations, and added at times, unbearable stress to an already overly sedentary lifestyle for employees.
Leaders, managers or blue collars, we all face similar health issues and risks.
Companies really have the opportunity to improve their business performances, starting with their people.
We as business leaders, can really generate a great value to the companies we lead, by helping employees enjoy their working space more, educate them on how to live better at work, and bring their experience to their families.
In a Buddhist way, we as business leaders, can all act as Bodhisattva's, by educating people on how to live a more balanced lifestyle at work and home. The effect? Companies with stronger financials, and healthier and happier people inside and outside of work.