Balancing Act: Firms promoting programs to keep employees well

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It's lunchtime, and Gayle Goodman heads to the gym in her office tower, where she and co-workers at AutoNation spend a half-hour sweating through a jam-packed workout with a personal trainer. Then, it's a shower and back to work. "It's a quick and effective way of getting in exercise," she said.

Finding time to exercise is one of the biggest challenges American workers struggle with today. While we know the health benefits, making fitness part of our routine just doesn't happen for many of us -- unless we do it on a job.

Around the country, businesses are stepping in to help employees who lack motivation to exercise on their own. They're opening on-site fitness centers, creating walk trails and swimming pools, encouraging gym membership, offering lunchtime workouts and even bringing in at-the-desk exercise equipment.

Companies are beginning to realize their employees need help managing stress if they're going to avoid burnout and stay productive, said Jennifer Owens, editorial director for Working Mother magazine and the Working Mother Research Institute.

For the first time, the magazine has just published a list of 10 Best Companies for Health and Wellness. At these top companies around the nation, seven feature fitness centers, all offer fitness classes and many have on-site medical clinics.

"The companies that are successful are getting people to work together to get well," Ms. Owens said. "The hours we're at work are inching upward. If we can carve out time at work to exercise, that may be the answer."

For Ms. Goodman, an information technology director at AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it's the convenience factor and the enticement of a midday stress reliever that lures her to the company's gym: "Exercise is only an elevator ride away."

In most companies, fitness contests are the most popular way to motivate staffers to get active, said Fran Melmed, founder of Context Communication, a consulting firm that specializes in workplace wellness. The idea is to encourage employees to lose weight and become active collectively.

Last year, American Express launched a fitness challenge called "Walk This Way" to get employees moving. American Express employees who participated tracked their steps on a pedometer for 12 weeks. Those who reached 420,000 steps earned $200 in their health savings account.

Ms. Melmed said there are multiple benefits to officewide challenges: "Beyond increasing fitness, you get to know people in other areas and it can ease the way to better collaboration and improved morale."

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life; balancegal@gmail.com.


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