The Expanding Role of Corporate Wellness

As the name itself suggests, ‘corporate wellness’ is a concept that involves different programs which aim to nurture the well-being of a company’s employees. This concept usually applies to large companies and organizations, although it is increasingly getting adopted by small and medium enterprises as well because the notion of corporate wellness has greatly evolved over the past several years. This is due in part because businesses have come to realize that they can significantly reduce the expenses associated with health care services by simply implementing some sort of employee wellness program. Wellness products, services and programs usually are not only cost-effective for a corporation in the short-term, but also very good long-term investments as numerous studies suggest that healthy employees perform better when compared to their unhealthy counterparts. Therefore when considering corporate wellness it is important to not only look at return on investment (ROI) as it pertains to reduced healthcare costs, but also lagging indicators like the economic benefit of increased employee productivity, as well as reduced absenteeism in the workplace (caused by illness).

Corporate Wellness

Historically there have been barriers to implementing a successful corporate wellness solution. Corporate wellness facilitation such as program management, seminar and campaign creation, as well as reporting and data maintenance have been labor intensive tasks. However, there are a growing set of tools to help businesses more easily set up programs, as well as the advent of less sophisticated programs making it easier for small and mid-sized businesses to offer these types of services.

Online Corporate Wellness Programs

Given the growing variety of different types of businesses and corporations, it should be of no surprise that there are a growing number of different types of wellness programs as well. Some programs, for instance, offer basic advice and guidance over the Internet – employees can access these programs online and self-manage their wellness. These programs usually come with a variety of Internet-based tools that allow employees to calculate various health measures and manage their personal health information in a secure and convenient manner. Features of online wellness programs that might appeal to businesses with tight budgets are the fact that they are highly scalable, as well as updated on a constant basis so that the latest research and findings concerning any health issue are available to the employer’s employee base (this is harder to manage when program facilitation is through printed material such as workbooks).

Incentive Corporate Wellness Programs

Some businesses have started to build fitness clubs within the organization or offer subsidized health club memberships to their employees at a nearby location. In addition to this, backed by the Affordable Care Act (that set up new ways to incentivize healthy habits) many businesses are offering corporate wellness programs that provide their employees economic incentives to stay healthy. These incentives include everything from gift cards for rewarding certain types of behavior to rebates and incentives on insurance for improvements in health. If implemented correctly these type of incentive programs can create a win-win situation: employees stay fit and healthy (and can enjoy extrinsic rewards), while the corporation might notice an increase in employee productivity and a reduction in their contribution to healthcare costs. Sometimes simply teaching people the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not enough, some need extrinsic motivation to sustain their efforts. However, some in the field of corporate wellness (myself included) believe that rewarding healthy behavior with monetary rewards might have unforeseen consequences. Further research on this topic will eventually bring to light whether these concerns are valid.

Bottom-line: The field of corporate wellness is quickly evolving, especially with the advent of new online tools and incentive programs supported by provisions in the Affordable Care Act. These new innovations have the potential to not only allow more businesses to offer corporate wellness to their employees, but also to enhance the effectiveness of corporate wellness across the board. If you have an interest in the future of corporate wellness please connect with me through Twitter at @PerformBetter.

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Five

Hello Everyone,

This is the 25th edition of the Live Life Love newsletter. It’s hard to believe the overall project has reached the quarter waypoint. I’m grateful for the way it has evolved thus far and the opportunities it’s afforded me to grow. Moreover, I’m extremely grateful that you have allowed me to share with you and keep in touch, in this manner, along the way. My favorite part is when I hear back from someone and/or I’m able to help someone else along their own path.

I began over six years ago with the mild delusion of being able to reach some form of omniscience in the area of health and wellness entrepreneurship. This, of course, is folly. However, my dream of being able to put a dent in the Universe – by somehow contributing to the expansion of human health and flourishing – manifests a little more every time I hit send each quarter. It’s a wonderful gift (to me) that you’re reading this right now. I thank you, sincerely.

Health and Wellness: Mike Leveque has ten years of executive leadership experience in health and wellness innovation. He previously was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Star Trac Fitness and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MYZONE, a company which makes an innovative activity tracking device. My interview with Mike Leveque about fitness innovation can be found here.

Entrepreneurship: Pat Fellows is a serial entrepreneur who currently runs the restaurant Fresh Junkie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pat is an early mentor of mine and I’m proud to call him a friend. In addition to his various entrepreneurial accomplishments Pat is a devoted triathlete, health enthusiast, and a TEDx speaker. My interview with Pat Fellows about entrepreneurship realities can be found here.

Contribution: Halloween this year allowed me to reminisce about my own childhood when my daughter brought home her first UNICEF donation box. When the two of us were through with it, you couldn’t fit another coin in the box.

UNICEF donation 2013

I also contributed to a friend’s film fundraising effort (Cicada) as well as made a donation to help the Philippines recover from Typhoon Haiyan.

Life Experience: Aside from the awe inspiring and already well-documented experience of seeing downtown San Francisco come alive with Batkid fever;

Batkid SF | Miles

…this quarter’s life experience (personally) was all about sharpening the saw. I went to three different professional conferences, two of which I had never attended before: the Quantified Self Global Conference, Health 2.0 and the Lean Startup Conference.

Health 2.0 and The Lean Startup Conference 2013

At these events, what I picked up during my marathon of networking with some of the most prominent thought leaders in the areas of wellness and entrepreneurship is that – by almost every account – 2014 is poised to be an incredible year full of revolutionizing innovation and unbounded opportunity. May good fortune be yours in the coming year and beyond!

Warm regards,

Interview with Pat Fellows about Entrepreneurship Reality

Pat Fellows is a serial entrepreneur who currently runs the restaurant Fresh Junkie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In addition to his various entrepreneurial accomplishments Pat is a health enthusiast, devoted triathlete, and a representative of Mizuno Running. As if that weren’t enough, Pat is also a proud husband and father of two, as well as an avid philanthropist. He is the founder of Rocketkidz Foundation (RKF) which provides activity based programs for kids to help fight childhood obesity as well as supports programs with a similar purpose such as Girls on the Run and Wheels to Succeed.

1)  You had an entrepreneurial endeavor, Rocket Burrito, that was a personal passion but ultimately you had to pivot from it and shut it down. What were the key elements that made you realize it was time to pivot and what did you learn from the experience?

My 2 biggest takeaways from this were:

  1. Sometimes it is just the wrong timing.  You have the right locale, but things don’t fall how they should.
  2. The biggest takeaway was that a business failure is not a personal failure.  

I “was” Rocket.  People still call me Rocketboy.  I was devastated and for awhile wondered how I could be such a failure.  It’s tough.  I didn’t do everything right, but I didn’t do enough to fail as badly as I did other than it simply being bad timing.  There is a thriving Chipotle now right next to where I had my burrito joint…  albeit 7 years later.

2) Inc. ran a recent article, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. In the piece the author (Jessica Bruder) highlights the soft underbelly of entrepreneurship which is often avoided in print to protect the popular heralding of entrepreneurial accomplishment. It seems few writers are willing to tarnish the lure of owning your own business by highlighting the tales of failed endeavors. I know some of the common challenges of entrepreneurship have affected you in the past as we just discussed. Based on your own experience what can you add to the advice that was passed on in Bruder’s article?

The reality is that some people are just wired for entrepreneurship AND running a starting business is rough.  Hell running a 7 year old business is tough.  I have gone deep into depression and to this day, I leave my wife out of some things as it is just too much.  She runs the house.  I don’t keep her stressed with what is going on. She feels it, but I don’t kill her with the “my bank account is over-drafted” stories.  I have been in every pit of despair there is.  Yet, I am driven to push my ideas.  I have a great job, love the guys I work with, but when I am doing my best, it’s when I am intellectually and “idea” engaged.  I am wired to see my ideas win and be fulfilled.  Bad days are just a part of the process.

3) Giving back to people and the community seems to be a significant part of your ethos. You are the unofficial cheerleader of your friends, as well as people in general – I myself have benefited from this. Other efforts include your 32 Mile swim for charity (see Pat’s TEDx talk) and the RocketKidz Foundation which has been established to help fight childhood obesity. Given the time and resources it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, what are the driving forces that motivate you to want to give back in big ways?

My number one goal has always been  to make people better. Period.  It’s the right thing to do. Just as I can’t not be an entrepreneur, I can’t not give back. Even when I was broke and had to sell a house to get out from under a loan, I was still better off than a ton of people.  I don’t lose light of that.

From a health and nutrition point of view, the reality is our country eats so poorly, that it’s shameful.  I walked through a “grocery store” the other day and I challenged myself to find a row that was completely nutritious.  There wasn’t one.  PERIOD.  Obesity, to me, is currently the number one problem in our society.  Period, end of story.  It drives our economy (downward), and is the battle of our lifetime.  How can you not give back and fight that?

4) You are a proud father, a successful entrepreneur, an Ironman athlete, a representative of Mizuno shoes, a philanthropist and a TEDx speaker. Given your incredible ability to hold it all together, what are your three most successful productivity advantages, methods and/or tools that you can share?

  1. Realize that your 70% is probably better than most peoples’ 100%. If what you do is truly passion based, then on most days, you have to accept that ‘finished’ is good enough.  Kind of the progress vs. perfection idea, if you’re passionate about something you can get in your own way.
  2. Say no.  This is hard, but there is only so much time in the day.  You have to say no to okay, to have time to say yes to awesome.
  3. Exercise every day.  This should probably be #1.

5) Given all your various life lessons to date, what is one piece of advice you wish you could give the young Pat Fellows as he stepped into his first day as a serial entrepreneur back in 2000 (not about that first business per se but about the journey you were about to embark upon in general)?

Really, I don’t think there’s much.  Think and talk less, execute more.  Be more financially strong and responsible. Finally, I’d tell myself, “You are doing this right. If you believe it will work out, it will.” It always has so far.

Interview with Mike Leveque about Fitness Innovation

Mike Leveque has a decade of executive leadership experience in health and wellness innovation. He previously was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Star Trac Fitness and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MYZONE. MYZONE is a chest strap and monitoring system that displays heart rate, calories, time and effort to a LCD monitor, while simultaneously creating an online logbook of all physical activity that can be viewed anywhere in the world through the Internet.

1) The MYZONE device relies on heart rate and time as the primary data sources by which to track an individual’s overall activity. When compared to accelerometers – aside from the obvious advantage that the MYZONE device is able to more effectively capture effort from activities where movement is limited (ex. spinning, group training, etc.) – what additional advantages does heart rate tracking have over the standard tracking offered by traditional pedometers/accelerometers?

First of all, the pedometer is limited to the movement of the device. If you are wearing a pedometer on your foot and exercise on a Krank Cycle, you will not log activity. Additionally, there may be cases where a bumpy road triggers step credit on a pedometer. Lastly, the pedometer/accelerometer can only calculate a standardized step credit. For example, let’s say a user is cross country skiing, the “steps” credited will be nowhere near equal in intensity to a similar amount of “steps” while taking a walk on the beach at the same velocity.

In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from The Center for Disease Control, it is recommended that every adult exercise each week for one hundred and fifty minutes at moderate intensity  or seventy-five minutes at vigorous intensity. Never does it recommend a certain number of steps, because there is simply no accurate way to measure the intensity of physical activity via a pedometer or an accelerometer.

A recent report from Flinders University in Australia has found that there is an unbalanced relationship between steps and high-intensity training. In the report Dr. Norton states, “Most physical activity guidelines recommend a 30 minute daily walk but we found that it would take 50 hours of walking to achieve the same aerobic fitness that you could get from just one hour of high-intensity (or vigorous) activity.”

Heart rate monitoring provides a level of accuracy that pedometers and accelerometers cannot. Every body reacts differently to exercise and the beat of your heart is the only accurate way to measure effort during physical activity. This accuracy allows our MYZONE software to provide user-generated content to track metrics such as average effort, time in user specific zones and caloric expenditure during exercise. Because the MYZONE software logs the user’s age, gender, weight and every heart beat during a workout session, it can utilize those four variables to calculate the calories burned during a particular session. This is much more accurate than the algorithms used by pedometers and accelerometers.

2) At the Quantified Self Conference this year Gary Wolf made a comment eluding that corporate wellness is somewhat degrading the sanctity of self-tracking. He was then reticent about the sentiment but my interpretation is he was alluding to the potential damage program parameters can have on motivation and personal drive when it pertains to the positive benefits tracking can have on wellness. In other words, limiting autonomy and confining options (ex. a company that only offers step challenges) might actually end up doing more harm than good. How important do you think it is to let the individual set their own health and wellness goals (opposed to them being mandated)?

I believe most reasonable executives would agree that utopia would be providing regular health assessments, thoroughly educating each employee individually on their results and then allowing them to set the most appropriate health and wellness goals that motivate them to achieve a better future state. However, a wellness program that is customized to each employee is neither practical nor cost effective for most companies. So then the question becomes, is the net benefit positive of a standardized program where the goal or goals are set by the firm? After taking into account the human cost of capital and other direct costs, the vast majority of studies agree that there is a strong return on investment of any wellness program that encourages increasing regular physical activity, even if the participants are not able to set their own goals.

3) When it is difficult enough to get the layperson to understand the existing wellness vernacular, what is the added value/utility of introducing a new branded concept like MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) for measuring and tracking physical activity? How does this improve upon the existing lexicon and contribute to a better user experience?

The two main benefits of MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) are standardization and gamification. Since MEPs progressively reward a user for increasing effort in their personal heart rate zones, we have created somewhat of a golf handicap in the awarding of points to users. For instance a deconditioned user may rapidly enter their higher point earning zone but they will fatigue more quickly than a well-conditioned athlete. A well-conditioned athlete, with an efficient cardiovascular system, may have a hard time approaching the high point earning zones but they can maintain durations in their lower zones for much longer than a deconditioned user might. The benefit is the system rewards general effort and standardizes for various levels of physical fitness .

Many users need an increase in their motivation to achieve their goals. Through gamification, MEPs allow MYZONE users and their fitness facilities to encourage attainment of health and wellness targets by establishing user challenges, goals setting and rewarding goal achievement. Cycling various user groups through individual and/or collective challenges has proven to engage and maintain club member participation in an exercise program while simultaneously creating the stickiness of the member to the associated fitness facility.

4) Current science suggests that if you can get an individual intrinsically motivated to stay healthy (ex. focus on the benefits of general well-being), adherence to behavior change will generally be longer lasting when compared to an individual who was extrinsically motivated (ex. the carrot of winning a weight loss challenge). If this is true, what role can technology play in fostering intrinsic motivation?

Utilization of technology is an effective mechanism to provide an individual with user generated content (UGC) of their physical activity and its related outcomes. UGC, such as duration of a training session, intensity of a training session and an accurate caloric expenditure total, helps educate the MYZONE user as to how effective an exercise session has been. It creates a currency by which all future sessions can be compared.

Since the MYZONE system can be linked to a body composition analyzer, a MYZONE user can track important biometric information, such as weight, BMI, body fat percentage and muscle mass to gauge whether or not they are benefiting from their current regime. MYZONE and devices like it can also provide the user a basal metabolic rate calculation to help the user regulate food consumption to achieve their health goals. It is through this increased availability of information that an individual can track their activity and make better decisions.

5) What currently excites you the most about the accelerated advancement of personal technology as it pertains to health management? What do you see on the horizon that you believe is going to be a game changer?

Accessibility of data as it relates to physical fitness will allow fitness facilities to add gamification to their offering. When deployed correctly, gamification will support the club’s efforts to attract, integrate and retain members at levels the fitness industry has never seen. In addition, personal technology will aid in the club’s outreach to provide richer feedback to corporate clients. The holy grail of technology as it relates to fitness is linking activity to lower health care costs and ultimately lower insurance premiums. Once this happens and information is accessible to all individuals, the fitness industry should grow exponentially.