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Overweight employees could be costing
you millions, if not billions, of dollars.
Tom Gilliam offers seven tips on cutting
that bill down to size.
If you have overweight employees, you probably know
they're costing you money. Common sense tells you they take more sick days
(which leads to lower productivity) and have higher medical bills (which equal
higher insurance costs). But you may not realize the severity of the problem.
Thomas B. Gilliam, Ph.D., invites you to simply scan the news. You'll quickly
discover that obesity is costing you big bucks—and that it's in your best
interest to help them get the weight off now.
"I read an article in The Wall Street Journal that reported that an obese
employee costs General Motors about $1,500 more in health services each year
compared to an employee with a healthy body weight," says Gilliam, co-author
(along with Jane Neill, R.D., L.D.) of Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.: Achieve
a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time! (T. Gilliam & Associates, LLC,
2005, ISBN: 0-9762703-0-7, $19.95). "It went on to say that when you consider
that about 26 percent of GM's active workers and dependents are obese, the
problem is costing the company nearly $1.4 billion more in healthcare costs each
"Another article, this one in the Chicago Tribune, stated that big companies
have seen per-worker healthcare costs increase by more than 80 percent just
since 2000," he adds. "That is a shocking jump. When you consider the fact that
over 60 percent of the workforce is either overweight or obese, you have to
assume that weight is a big part of the problem. And you have to realize that
getting your employees to slim down can result in significant savings for your
company. There's simply no denying it."
Perhaps not. But there's a huge gulf between knowing employees need to lose
weight and "making" them lose it. You're veering into sensitive territory.
That's why corporations hire experts to design and implement wellness
programs--like Gilliam's own Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.--for their workers.
"Encouraging weight loss is a touchy issue," admits Gilliam. "Leaders think,
'Well, it's a personal matter and how much someone weighs is his or her own
business.' The whole subject makes leaders uncomfortable. But the truth is, if
you pay health insurance for your employees, obesity is your business. It
directly relates to your economic health, which affects all of your employees in
a very tangible way."
So how do you go about getting overweight workers to slim down? Gilliam offers
· Be honest with people about the impact of their excess weight. It's natural to
dread these types of conversations, but remember that your employees are adults.
They can handle it. Tell employees honestly and directly that it's difficult to
provide higher wages and better benefits when so much of the company's money is
going to support illnesses that could be prevented. If you're implementing a
company-wide weight loss initiative, you can make these points in a letter or a
kick-off meeting. But don't discount the power of personal, face-to-face
conversations. People will respect you more if you look them in the eye and tell
the truth--and if you express concern for their well-being (rather than focusing
solely on the money), they may even be touched and appreciative.
· Commit to helping them lose weight. It's easy to make any lifestyle change if
you have support. And having the full, committed backing of the company you work
for is a significant benefit. Gilliam recommends structured programs like his
own Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy. because they make the whole thing more
"official" and have built-in tools and techniques that increase the likelihood
of success. But it's certainly possible to "wing it" and create your own
program, especially if you're a small company. Just be sure to invite all
employees to participate. This will keep certain employees from feeling "picked
on" and will provide a helpful sense of teamwork. And let's face it--there are
few people who don't have at least five pounds they want to drop!
· Offer incentives. What those incentives are can vary wildly. Some companies
may give small cash bonuses or gift certificates for reaching pre-determined
milestones. Others may offer discounted insurance premiums. Still others make it
a "team thing" and set up friendly competitions between departments; the team
that collectively loses the most weight gets rewarded with, say, an afternoon
off. "Even small incentives are powerful," says Gilliam. "Let's be honest:
walking every day and forgoing your coffee and doughnut break can be a drag.
People like working toward a concrete reward. Be creative. Make it fun.
"Oh, and one more point," he adds. "You also need to recognize that group of
people who have normal BMIs and manage to maintain them. After all, it's that
gradual, ten-pounds-every-year weight gain that leads to problems over time.
People who don't let that happen deserve to be rewarded--and they'll rightfully
feel resentful if their conscientiousness is ignored."
· Teach employees the basics of weight loss. The only way to lose weight and
keep it off is to consume a moderate, nutritious diet and exercise regularly.
Period. Fad diets, fitness gadgets, and other get-thin-quick schemes won't work.
Obviously, though, plenty of people are buying into them or the sellers wouldn't
be doing such a booming business. Educate your employees on the realities of
weight loss. A book such as Gilliam and Neill's, Move It. Lose It. Live
Healthy.: Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time!, can serve as a
solid foundation for your corporate effort.
· Get your employees excited about good nutrition. Create a "recipe" bulletin
board--the old-fashioned "cork board" kind or the virtual online kind--so that
employees can share the details of their delicious finds and their own culinary
creations. Host a potluck lunch to which everyone brings his or her favorite
healthful dish. Or ask employees to take turns bringing in fresh fruits, veggie
trays, or other lowfat snacks for people to munch on during break. Don't forget
to remove all "junk food" from the premises. It's hard to stay on track when
vending machines packed with grease and sugar and trans fatty acids beckon with
their sinister glow.
· Foster and encourage exercise groups. Human beings are social creatures. They
are much more likely to sustain an exercise program if they have company. Hire
an aerobics instructor to come in several times a week--during pre- or post-work
hours--to lead everyone in a vigorous workout. Start a lunch-hour walking group.
You might even put a treadmill, stair-step machine, and weight bench in a vacant
room so that employees can have their own "gym." (Just ask everyone to sign a
waiver so you're legally covered in case of injury.)
· Link weight loss to larger family issues. No one wants to be obese. But most
people want their children to be obese even less. Offering to help employees set
a healthy example for their children can be a powerful motivator. That's why
Gilliam's Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy. program has a strong child-centric
component--including cartoon characters with names like Heart "E" Heart, Sticky
Lipid, and Thundering Triglyceride. "I've found that when you say to people,
'Look, every time you open a new bag of potato chips and collapse in front of
the TV, your kids are watching you,' they pay attention," he says. "Hey, guilt
can be a very useful tool. Ask any mother."
Ultimately, says Gilliam, prodding employees to take control of their body
weight can start a cascade of positive results for companies--many of which may
"Losing weight can be a very life-affirming experience," he says. "People gain
confidence. They get happier. They see firsthand the rewards of working hard to
meet goals. Ultimately, this translates to more effective, productive employees
who are likely to feel intense loyalty to you for helping them turn things
around. So a company that empowers people to lose weight may not only see an
improvement in healthcare costs, it may gain better employees. And that, in and
of itself, is a good reason to make the commitment."
# # #
Ten Weight Loss and Healthy Tips
to Post on
Your Employee Bulletin Board
Excerpted from Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy.:
Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time!
(T. Gilliam & Associates, LLC, 2005, ISBN: 0-9762703-0-7, $19.95).
· Realize that thinner bodies can equal fatter wallets. It is difficult for
companies to improve benefits and provide higher wages when so much more of the
company's money is going to support illnesses that can be prevented. The average
cost of a disability claim caused by obesity for a worker in 2004 was $51,000
per year. With over 60 percent of the workforce either overweight or obese, the
number of these claims can only go up.
· Keep an exercise calendar. Every time you complete your exercise for the day,
write it down on your calendar. Keep track of the duration, kind of exercise
performed (walking, biking, and so on) and speed or pace if you know it. Writing
it down adds to your sense of accomplishment on a weekly, monthly, and yearly
· Slow and steady wins the weight loss race. What if you just consumed one roll
a day instead of two and used two tablespoons of salad dressing instead of
three? That is a caloric savings of 105 calories. One hundred five calories a
day for an entire year is 38,325 calories for the year. This will result in a
weight loss of about 11 pounds.
· Smart margarine shopping. To reduce the amount of trans fatty acids in your
diet, use less margarine and choose a margarine that lists "liquid oil," such as
liquid olive oil, liquid canola oil, or liquid corn oil, as the first ingredient
on the food label. (Ingredients are listed in descending order. So the first
ingredient is in the highest quantity in the product.)
· Write it down. Write it down. Write it down! Keep a detailed dietary record of
what you eat for at least three days. (Go to healthybodyweight.com to download a
helpful chart.) Most people will say, "I know what I eat. I don't have to write
it down." Don't believe it. You probably underestimate. Writing it down helps
you evaluate where in your diet you can make the small changes that will make a
· When going to restaurants, be aware of "healthy" and "unhealthy" menu terms.
Terms to look for: baked, simmered, marinara, marsala, roasted, wine based,
stir-fried. Terms to avoid: alfredo, hollandaise, au gratin, béchamel, mornay,
· Teach kids healthy lifestyle habits from the beginning. Many lifestyle habits
and behaviors are established by the time a child is eight. This means physical
activity habits and eating habits are pretty well set and are very difficult to
change after the age of eight. Remember, today's children are tomorrow's
· Create healthy attitudes toward food by involving kids in meal preparation.
Letting them wash fruit or vegetables or stir a mixture helps to create an
interest in foods. Older children can learn to set the table and prepare
beverages. And don't forget to ask for help in clearing the table, washing the
dishes, and putting things away.
· Three quick, easy, healthy breakfast ideas for kids. Plain or toasted lean ham
or turkey sandwich spread lightly with mayonnaise accompanied by fresh apple
slices or wedges and skim milk . . . Your favorite lowfat yogurt topped with
dry, crunchy whole grain cereal, fresh chopped berries and nuts along with iced
or bottled water . . . Toasted whole grain bagel spread with your choice of
natural peanut butter or fat free flavored cream cheese served with fresh banana
or your favorite seasonal fruit and skim milk.
· Go outside and enjoy the weather. For many, fall is a great time of year to
get some exercise outdoors. Check out your local and state parks for some biking
and hiking. As always, don't forget the safety gear. And drink water frequently
to avoid dehydration.
# # #
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