No More T-Shirts: Boost Employee Wellness Through Endurance Sports

If a person’s body is the engine of their individual performance, I like to think that an employee workforce is the engine of a company’s performance. A physically healthy and highly-functioning workforce can set the stage for an exponential performance by the company.

In fact, the collective health of a company’s employees may be the deciding factor for a positive balance sheet.

However, data continues to show that, while athleisure sales skyrocket, training plans are an app away, and the active lifestyle gains followers, the American workforce is unhealthy. For instance, the Choices Project released a report describing that all states, except California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, have adult obesity rates at least 30% and above.

Granted, many complicated and interconnected forces are at work here – from public policies and economic drivers to individual responsibilities and environmental conditions – that contribute to obesity. Mix in an aging population, long-term impacts of today’s unhealthy choices, and skyrocketing health care costs, and there seems to be an endless obstacle course for a high-performing workforce.

If you’re sitting in the C-Suite or the Human Resources department, what does all of this mean for you?

Fortunately, the growing popularity of endurance sports, such as triathlons, ultramarathons, and cross-country mountain biking, open a big window right now for partnerships between the companies seeking a healthy workforce and the athletes and brands within the endurance sports world.

I see two forces within endurance sports that are most promising to the C-Suite and HR departments seeking something more effective than free company t-shirts to encourage employee health.

Wave of the Wearables

Smart watches, heart-rate monitors and other data tracking devices once exclusively marketed to elite and recreational endurance athletes are now accessible to the average person who has no desire to run Leadville Trail 100. My earlier post, Why Triathletes Win The Active Lifestyle Marketing Race, described how wearables dominated two of the world’s largest electronics and mobile conventions this year.

The personal is blending with the work environment as employers also seek that data. SmartData Collective recently explored how the health insurance industry now uses wearables for personal health data collection for more accurate cost estimates. As more companies are attracted to the potential for lower health insurance costs and better information about its workforce, data tracking is not slowing.

It is predicted that “wearable technology would become mainstream in the insurance industry within the next two years.”

As additional evidence of the acceptance of health data tracking, youth are also being encouraged to strap on a wearable. For example, part of the 21st Century Health and Fitness Monitoring project in a New Hampshire school, thirty Polar smart heart rate sensor kits will be bought for youth in grades 6 through 8 to monitor the time spent in targeted heart rate zones and better understand the motivation to be active.

Executive + Athlete + Coach

We know that simply giving the latest gear and sharing the newest information to employees (and athletes) will not make them stronger; there must also be a thoughtful strategy for meeting one’s goals, ideally developed under the guidance of an informed coach.

While a coach with competition experience is critical for recreational athletes, a coach partnering with a company also must appreciate the dynamics of running a business and motivating employees.

Two-time XTERRA world Champion Lesley Paterson is a great example of the executive, athlete, and coach blend in the endurance sports community. Besides finding time to compete in XTERRA, IRONMAN 70.3, and mountain biking races, Paterson also owns and directs Braveheart Coaching, a full-fledged coaching business for triathletes. Paterson exemplifies how professional endurance athletes develop executive skills useful in numerous situations.

And her work is paying off: Paterson was recently named one of the top 6 XTERRA triathlete heroes.

5x Ironman and 70.3 World Champion, Craig Alexander, gathered his personal team of advisors and performance coaches under his Sansego brand to help aspiring amateur athletes ‘see the path clearly’ and ‘without ego’ as they strive to physically perform both on the race course and in the boardroom.  Sansego has been a life philosophy that has resulted in tremendous success for the humble Aussie who insists, “it’s all about making good decisions.”

Consider these scenarios to take advantage of endurance sports trends for your company’s employee wellness:

Tailored Wellness Program for C-Suite and Directors

Men and women leading a company must perform under enormous responsibility and pressure. The CEO, CFO, CMO and others in the C-Suite, along with the company’s board of directors, most likely are aware of how corporate wellness and health initiatives benefit an employee population. But what about the health of the company’s leadership?

A program tailored to the personalities, schedules, and stresses of the C-Suite would be more effective than a generic program. Individuals who hold C-Suite positions got there thanks to a competitive spirit. A high-performing pro endurance athlete is no stranger to the “give-it-all” drive and can inform and inspire executives towards better health which ultimately leads to better performance. It’s also a great way to lead by example – an admirable characteristic seen in some of the best leaders in business today.

Attending regular wellness discussions, leading group training sessions, and sharing special insights about elite athletic performance are ways that an endurance pro athlete can be meaningful to the C-Suite.

Improved Employee Health Through Connected Corporate Teams

As part of the traditional sponsorship of employee teams competing in the local 10k race, the combo of wearables, social fitness, and athlete coaches can be an especially good return on investment. Organized training teams allow employees to work and grow together:

  • Assemble small teams representing different departments, committing to group and individual training during and after the race.
  • Partner with an executive+athlete+coach to lead group training sessions virtually and in-person, provide instruction not just on physical training but also mental preparation, proper recovery, and healthy nutrition.
  • Provide sponsored smart watches to employees, allowing individual tracking of progress, better awareness about their overall health, and friendly competition with co-workers. Data would also be easily shared, with proper permission, to the HR department to more accurately inform their health insurance policies

There are more opportunities to boost employee health and lower insurance costs. If you and your employees want to receive more than a free t-shirt as part of their corporate wellness, partnerships with endurance sports athletes and brands can ease your minds and budgets. - By the Human Interest Group (HIG), Boulder, Colorado, USA