Why Companies Should Pay for Employees to Lose Weight

Oleg Razvalyaev (in red) recently ran a half marathon.

Health consciousness at work is turning from a fashion into a tradition.

A few days ago, I met an old friend and didn't recognize him, he had lost so much weight. Oleg Razvalyaev is 39 years old. We both live in the Moscow suburb Ramenskoye. Like me, he spends at least two hours a day commuting to Moscow, where he works as the head of the accounting and financial tracking systems department of the Moscow Stock Exchange. He told me that he really enjoys running lately and twice a week he stays late in Moscow after work and works with a trainer, which the company pays for. Two more times a week, he runs in Ramenskoye. That's a total weekly run of 50-60 km. Razvalyaev dropped 32 kg. in two years.

The Moscow Stock Exchange has created two sports club in the last two years: the MOEX Triathlon Team, with 12 members (of all ranks), and MOEXRUN, with 40 people. "It was an employee initiative, the company just supported their ideas," said Ruslan Vesterovsky, personnel director of the Moscow Stock Exchange. The company provides coaches for both teams, rents sports facilities in the autumn and winter (bicycle track and cross-country course) and provides uniforms. According to the HR manager, many employees are unrecognizable now, they have changed so much. "Some only have left half of them," he laughs. Vesterovsky himself has gotten noticeably thinner in this time. "Running 10 km. every day keeps you toned," he said.

Running and triathlon

According Vesterovsky, ½ Ironman in Dublin on August 9 was chosen as the main start of the team's 2015 triathlon season. It is a 1.9 km. swim, 90 km. bicycle race and 21 km. run. Preparations for Dublin took seven months — the guys trained from January to July. "In Dublin, ½ Ironman was the distance debut for five of our team members, the rest had competed before. They first did a similar distance in Amsterdam in 2014," Vesterovsky said.

The 21 km. Autumn Thunder half marathon on September 13 was chosen as the main start for the running team. "Four of the runners are so immersed in running that they ran the full marathon (42 km.) in Moscow on September 20," Vesterovsky said with pride. "Despite the fact that triathlon and running are individual sports, it is easier to support each other in a team, get together to exercise and go to motivational events and meetings with interesting speakers. In general, guys talk while they are training, and establish cross-functional ties."

Bet on the losing team

Last year, the JTI Petro factory in St. Petersburg launched the Lose Weight Together program for employees who wish to acquire good dietary habits, improve their health and say goodbye to excess weight. Employees with a body mass index (BMI) of over 27 were eligible for the program.

Participants were grouped into six teams, with 41 factory employees — both office and production staff — taking part. Each team has its own collective weight loss goal. The program began in July and will last a year, until the end of June 2016. At the beginning of the program, a dietitian met with each participant individually to define parameters and indicators for each employee and create a personal program. Each month, the teams met with the dietitian to sum up intermediate results, measuring results and making corrective recommendations. That schedule was in effect until December 2015. The second half of the year, from January to June 2016, is aimed at maintaining and improving the results. Winners will be determined by the results of this second stage, Marina Lebedeva, HR Manager JTI Russia said.

Losing weight together

"In 2014, we had 23 teams competing, that is, 161 people," Lebedeva said. The global technical support department, located in St. Petersburg, had the winning team. This group probably had the most sedentary work, but they showed the greatest activity — taking the stairs, cycling to work (the project was held in the summer) and going on bicycle trips on the weekends. The winner took 4 million steps in 100 days, and his team took 19 million, each member from JTI taking at least 15,000 steps per day on average.

Every other worker

Coca-Cola Hellenic in Russia is also concerned about physical activity. Employees of the company have their own running club, cycling club, and that's not all. "Since the beginning of 2015, we have inspired more than 5500 (out of 11,000) of our employees in Russia to be more active: every other worker has participated in sports initiatives at least once," boasted Yevgeny Mogilev, communications manager of Coca-Cola Hellenic in Russia. He said that the company has its own football team (or more than one) in every region, as well as cheerleaders.

Mogilev explained that, as a rule, someone among the staff gets inspired and assembles a team. The company supports the idea (for example, by inviting professional trainers to give classes, or publicizing the opportunities to employees who have not gotten involved yet). In one region, they do yoga in the office. The "white collar" support workers in the central office do 10 minutes of exercise on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In St. Petersburg, the staff held workshops for each other on various sports — how to take it to the limit, score the most points, get in a great mood and, if they win, get a prize. All classes for Coca-Cola Hellenic employees and their families are free of charge.

Work–life balance

"The clear trend in business now is to merge living and working. The border between the two areas is becoming increasingly blurred: we are available 24/7, your phone is always with you, business breakfasts with colleagues and customers — it has long been the norm," said Yegor Vorogushin, Hay Group consultant. In his view, immersion in work creates a risk of stress and burnout, so it becomes critically important for the company to support its employees.

According to Vorogushin, involving employees in sports began in the West a while ago. Initially it was just a trend to expand the list of privileges — kindergartens, fitness, yoga, meditation, and then, with the development of the self-awareness industry — pedometers, marathons and corporate events.

Experts say the reasons for companies to care about the health of their employees can be divided into three groups:

1) It is slowly becoming the standard in some industries, and it is part of the competition for employees.

2) It brings benefits: less sickness and absenteeism, more energetic employees.

3) It really has become fashionable: "everyone is doing it."

"The only minus, in my opinion, is the risk of a person becoming a function when he is cared for like expensive equipment," said Vorogushin. "However, this is largely dependent on the company's management and the premise behind the implementation of these programs."