Health’s been on my mind. That usually happens when you’ve been ill for a couple times in a row. Nothing serious – a couple colds – the dreaded lurgi. When your resistance is low, and you keep getting the ‘catch of the day’ – you need to start paying attention.
In business we find many ways to become more efficient. We’re using less energy in our buildings, recycling, reusing, minimizing waste, cutting off the fat yet we seem to not pay attention to the machine that makes it all possible – our bodies.
In the April 2012 issue of Fast Company Cliff Kuang, founding editor of Co.Design, addresses the health topic at Google in his article called ‘In the Cafeteria, Google gets healthy.’ He leads with “Much has changed since Google earned a reputation for fattening its staffers with food on demand. These days, the company is focused on advancing its healthy eating initiatives. Explains Jennifer Kurkoski, who has a PhD in organizational behaviour and runs a division of Google’s HR department called People Analytics, “When employees are healthy, they’re happy. When they’re happy, they’re innovative.”
Let’s repeat that for emphasis. “When employees are healthy, they’re happy. When they’re happy, they’re innovative.
What about when employers/leaders/business owners are unhealthy – what happens to employees? As in all things I believe that they do as we do – not necessarily as we say.
The objective of any Health and Safety Employment Act is to promote the prevention of harm to all people at work, and others in, or in the vicinity of, places of work. Yet many times we find more attention being paid to the safety aspect – make sure you know where all the fire exits are, wear your hard hats, comply with safety drills etc. and not much attention being paid to the actual health of our employees.
Like everything else – it starts with the leader. One of my clients recently made a decision to change her entire lifestyle. She decided to DO something about her weight and has made many changes in the way her family now eats. But she hasn’t stopped there. She’s found that far too many people in her business are overweight. She is scared by how many women are walking around with overextended tummies. NOT GOOD. So recently she decided to run a weight loss contest in her office. All the employees got on board and many in addition to losing weight got their blood pressure under control. The winner won a gym membership gift certificate.
I know of another client, who in the context of a health and safety initiative held a weight loss contest as well. Everyone was involved including the Managing Director. They cut out sodas, ate more fruits and vegetables and generally became more knitted together at the seams as they discussed their challenges and simultaneously became mentors to each other providing encouragement and support.
In both instances though, the changes were not permanent. People who lost weight put it right back on and old habits slowly crept back in.
The solution I feel, lies in not looking at healthy living as an event, or motivating staff to be healthy through a contest but making being healthy just as important as other business outcomes. Because let’s face it – if we don’t have healthy people on board – we won’t get the work done. If we don’t have a healthy leader/owner – then what?
In the last four plus years I’ve added about 20 pounds to my carriage. Two main reasons are responsible. The first is that I developed the habit of needing dessert after lunch and dinner. Keep in mind that I was NEVER a sweet tooth person but that’s what repetitive choice will do. In addition I stopped exercising – which for me was walking around the savannah. Nothing major.
To borrow Oprah’s line – what I know for sure is that when I’m making better food choices and moving my body as in walking, I feel better. I have more energy. I can think clearer. I feel more like a winner than a loser and more capable of fulfilling my purpose than on those days when I eat badly, binge, feel sorry for myself, binge some more and then flop into bed.
I think there is a direct correlation between good health and profitability. I feel that if we start with ourselves, making better food choices, and exercising, that those around us will begin to mirror us or at the very least understand that the reason that we can do and be more is simply because we have the energy to do that.
Leadership cannot be isolated to one area of your life. As human beings, we are not good at delayed gratification. We start self-improvement programs with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the program arises, we abandon our efforts completely—until the next time we pretend to be on the program.
In his book, interestingly titled ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker’ David Maister says: “Personally and professionally, we already know that we should do: lose weight, give up smoking, and exercise more. In business, strategic plans are also stuffed with familiar goals: build client relationships, act like team players, and provide fulfilling, motivating careers. We want the benefits of these things. We know what to do, we know why we should do it and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for us, because the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.”
To reach our goals, we must first change our lifestyle and our daily habits now. Then we must summon the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, will we get the benefits later. Let’s not wait for something horrible to happen before we begin making the necessary changes. Let’s all start leading with our ‘health’ foot forward!