Workers gain motivation to work out
Mary Sheldon went to the gym Thursday for the first time in 28 years because her employer insisted.
The Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce worker considers herself in average health but signed up for the corporate membership with Curves at Round Hill Square, a new health benefit the business organization offers its seven employees.
“I’m excited. It’s something new I’ve never been exposed to,” she said.
Sheldon serves as but one example the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would like to reach in spreading the word of good health among American workers.
“Building the immune system is far more important through wellness programs than taking antibiotics,” she said.
When her co-workers get sick — as many Tahoe people do in winter, the illness often gets passed on to the rest of the staff and translates into lost productivity.
For what she deems selfish and altruistic reasons, chamber Executive Director Kathy Farrell not only wants to stop the pattern but, at the same time “practice what I preach.”
Farrell, who is also a health advocate, decided to pick up the tab for her employees’ specialty gym membership last month, which amounts to a $29-per-person sign-up fee and $39 a month for each employee.
It’s been 15 years since she belonged to a gym. She plans to monitor her employees’ commitment to exercise.
She wants to re-energize them through physical fitness and relieve their stress — especially those who have constant customer contact.
Leading by example, Farrell has also walked through the plaza to Curves for the rotation exercises. Participants spend 30 seconds on 10 machines and make the rotation three times.
Active in the business community, Farrell believes many South Shore companies fall short of offering benefits such as gym memberships to their employees — especially in a day and age when Americans are becoming more obese according to studies.
Do companies refrain from offering this health benefit because Tahoe’s outside playground draws them out anyway?
“I think it would be nice if that were it,” Farrell said, adding it may come down to money. “There are so many small businesses here.”
Would government incentives tip the scales for companies trying to maintain a healthy work force?
“If somebody has to pay you to offer something good for your business than I feel sorry for you,” Farrell said.
The federal government seems to agree.
“Some can afford it more than others. But nothing would benefit any more than the companies,” said Campbell Gardett, spokesman for Health and Human Services.
Last week the department released a study, “Prevention Makes Common Cents” that has added more credence to the debate over whether companies would benefit from good employee health.
Medical problems prompted by poor employee health amounts to $13 billion a year in revenue losses for U.S. companies, it reported. With diabetes on the rise, average health care expenditures for people with the health condition amount to $13,243 per person.
There could be other reasons for pushing good health and well being.
Gardett said companies may use a physical fitness-related benefit as hiring and employee-retention advantages.
The federal government’s role in reversing the obesity trend is informational only, Gardett said from his Washington, D.C., office.
It collects statistics pertaining to the problem and sets fitness guidelines. The feds recommend 30 minutes of physical exertion every day.
“We need to try to understand what the causes are,” he said. “We know the basic premise that it’s taking in more calories than expending, but why is that? Is it TV? Is it that Americans work more than Europeans?”
Ray Anderson, who runs Sierra Athletic Club, believes following an exercise regimen relates to desire. Forty percent of the Tahoe Keys health club’s membership consists of corporate accounts.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” he said. “It boils down to whether the owner of a company works out and they think their employees should.”
There could be something to this argument for those companies that do offer health improvement programs to their South Shore employees. Here’s what some employers are offering:
n Under the direction of President Tim Cohee, Kirkwood Mountain Resort offers its employees a discount at Sierra Athletic Club.
n In town, Heavenly Ski Resort, with a playground on its slopes, puts on hikes for its employees beyond the urging of upper management for its staffers to get on the slopes. The program is called Heavenly Get Fit.
n Lakeside Inn & Casino’s President Mike Bradford is an avid cyclist. His company is one of the few that has shower facilities.
n Christian and Megan Waskiewicz tour abroad on their bikes, including triathlons around the state. Their company, Alpen Sierra Coffee Co., hosts Friday night mountain bike rides.
n Showing the progressive nature of the firm, Design Workshop employees say they take time before, during and after work for cycling, cross country skiing and hiking outside its Kingsbury Grade doors.
n Even the federal government tries to practice what it preaches. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Chris Campion, who works out of the South Lake Tahoe office, said the agency allows its employees to take three hours each week of paid leave to work out.
n The wellness programs have trickled down to local government. As an attempt to stem the tide of rising health costs, the city reimburses its South Lake Tahoe staffers for their gym memberships.
n Beyond hosting wellness lectures and smoking cessation classes, Barton Memorial Hospital provides discounts at Sierra Athletic, Curves and Time Out Fitness Center.
n The Tahoe Daily Tribune pays for memberships at Time Out Health Club, where owner Jim Wire said about 10 percent of his business comes from.
He agrees with Anderson that employees need to want to exercise for themselves.
“I think what employers need to do is go beyond offering to pay for it,” Wire said, suggesting prizes for achievements such as employee weight loss.
— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at email@example.com