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Active living: a key to worker health and performance.

It's Monday morning, and Carol Dawes, a marketing specialist for a leading Canadian insurer, is out of bed at 5:30 am. A general malaise washes over her -- the after affects of being up most of the night, caring for her ill three year-old. A quick shower, no breakfast and she begins her fifty minute commute to work.

But first, a quick stop to visit her father who, at 77, is planning to relocate to a retirement residence closer to his only daughter. Realizing she's without money, it's off to the bank machine.

That complete, she races the remaining seven blocks to catch the last downtown train. She stumbles aboard, winded but relieved, only to find the train completely full.

No choice but to stand.

Reaching for her briefcase, she realizes she's forgotten an important document -- her marketing report, due for presentation at a 10 o'clock meeting. Thinking back, she remembers leaving it outside the front door while backing her husband's car from the driveway.

Frustrated and annoyed, she glances out the window of the fast moving train. Clouds are settling in the morning sky, and it begins to rain.

Dealing with the frustrations of daily life are unavoidable. But Carol's situation does point to the growing state of imbalance between work and home-life for many Canadian workers. And companies are becoming more aware that it can hinder continuity and performance of employees, as well as the companies that employ them.

Can employers do more to assist workers to balance personal and professional responsibilities? Can they help workers cope with the fast pace of change in today's home and work environment?

Senior leaders from business and government who gathered recently at a forum in Toronto to talk about the relation between worker health and productivity say yes. How? By encouraging Canadian workers to get moving -- to walk, cycle, run, swim, ski or skate their way to improving their personal health.

Companies and organizations represented at the forum included Prudential Group Assurance, Shell Canada Ltd., the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Telsat Canada, the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, as well as other leading organizations from business and government.

ACTIVE LIVING

Forum participants agreed that the merging concept of active living -- a way of life in which physical activity is valued as an important part of daily living -- can help workers strike a balance in life.

But can active living help Carol as she deals with the demands of excess overtime, accelerated business travel, the pressure to produce, to move up the ladder and to satisfy her family needs at the same time? Can active living in the workplace help Carol strike a balance?

According to John Dimaurizio, a participant in the Toronto forum and director of human resources at Pratt-Whitney Canada's head office in Longueil, Quebec, active living programs have done just that. "Active living in our workplace provides a recreational means for our employees and their families...to have fun. Our employees are happier on the job, more creative, and ultimately more productive," says Dimaurizio.

And while the Pratt-Whitney program does include traditional fitness activities like aerobics, its success is due, in part, to choice. It involves letting employees choose how active they want to be, and what type of activity they like best. It may be as simple as going for a walk at lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or cycling to work. Ttai chi, archery and social events that include golf, horseback riding and picnics are other examples.

Also, active living at Pratt-Whitney is focused on spaces, not places, Dimaurizio sees little need to invest in high-tech, high-cost facilities. One reason is that the company has struck relationships with neighbouring recreational facilities. This provides employees with more options and keeps costs down.

BACK TO BASICS

Forum participants agreed that activity choice and a back-to-basics approach are important elements to any successful workplace active living program.

This movement away from the narrow definition of fitness, which included the "no pain, no gain" approach of the 1970's and 1980's, is said to deliver more benefits to employees and employers.

Dr. Art Quinney, Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta points out that "...the old definition of fitness left many Canadians, including workers, on the sidelines. They saw fitness as being intimidating and unappealing." Getting them back into the game through active living offers employees more practical ways to enjoy physical activity, adds Quinney. "Studies show that even modest increases in physical activity can reduce rates of employee morbidity (illness) and help companies save money".

BOTTOM LINE RESULTS

And while the active living link to a company's bottom line may be indirect, studies also show that a reduction in employee illness results in decreased absence from work. And when you consider that a day's absence by a employee can involve paying for replacement staff, recruiting and training time, as well as an overall loss in productivity, the costs to an employer can quickly add up. In fact, a factor of 1.75 multiplied by the day's wage is used to calculate the cost of one day's absence.

A landmark study which spanned ten years of the Canada Life Assurance Company employee fitness program involved comparing absentee rates of physically active employees with those who were sedentary. Employees who took part in the study were employed by the company for the entire ten year period beginning in 1978, the year the program was launched. Employees in the sedentary group were absent a total 38.9 days. Active employees were absent only 12.5 days over the ten year period -- a difference of 26.4 days!

How else can an active living workplace deliver healthy employees and a healthy bottom line?

Active living can support the trend toward prevention, resulting in less accidents at work and a decrease in employee health claims. As well, active living can be an innovative addition to any employee benefit program -- an important tool in attracting and retaining employees.

Dale Pratt, a senior advisor in employee health programs at Northern Telecom Canada agrees, "We want to attract and retain (productive) employees. Workplace active living programs help to position our company as an employer of choice."

And when employees are demanding broader compensation for their efforts, yet are limited by set earning levels and decreased room for advancement, active living programs can be a low cost alternative, says Pratt.

This approach to achieve a "new bottom line" -- one that takes into account an employer's social responsibility to its employees -- is gaining momentum in different industries in both Canada and the U.S.

LINK TO HEALTH PROMOTION

Pratt and other forum participants agreed that active living programs may not be the only answer to achieving optimal worker health and productivity. Indeed, the more traditional workplace health promotion programs continue to be very successful. They offer employees a wide range of options in managing their personal health and well-being. However, active living and the traditional approach to workplace health promotion can be mutually reinforcing.

With this in mind, the Canadian Centre for Active Living in the Workplace (CCALW), host and organizer of the one day forum, is currently exploring the development of an active living module for use within the workplace health promotion model.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

A key outcome of the forum was the decision to move forward with further research and development of the active living concept.

The first step -- to establish a research subcommittee made up of forum participants -- is complete. The committee, which will operate through the CCALW, will initiate on-going research projects at the national levels. As well, the committee will conduct case studies, examining selected companies and their different approaches to workplace active living. The creation of a comprehensive list of criteria used to gauge successful workplace active living programs will result from this research.

In an effort to broaden its network base, the CCALW, in co-operation with forum participants, hope to identify partners from national networks that include labour, the corporate community and the media. As well, plans to expand upon resource development and related services include making use of existing and new networks for material distribution.

Companies will be asked to play a lead role in promoting the benefits of active living to other interested organizations within business and labour. To support this action, the CCALW is inviting companies, labour unions, related organizations from fitness, recreation and sport, health promotion, occupational safety, health care and others to join with them in making workplace active living opportunities available to all Canadian workers.

Finally, in outlining several key decisions that resulted from the forum, the CCALW points out that Canadian business, labour and government must be proactive. They must recognize that an important step in minimizing the drain of change in today's work environment starts with their employees. In coping with the challenges of managing work and homelife, in attempting to keep pace with rapid technological change, in trying to find balance between personal and professional responsibilities, employees are looking to employers for help. Active living programs represent an effective, cost-efficient and fun way to answer this call.

Active living programs can help Carol to take charge of her life, contribute to her personal energy, discover her potential, enjoy the rewards of an enhanced quality of life, and increase her ability to cope with the challenges of daily living. They can help Carol to approach her job with a sense of value and worth -- knowing that her employer cares for her well-being, and looks to her ability to remain productive, both at work and at home, as being important.

GETTING INVOLVED

To become part of the CCALW network, which includes over 3,000 professionals from fitness and health organizations, corporations, national associations, unions and governments in Canada, contact Steve Grundy, CCALW Director, 1600 James Naismith Drive, Suite 312, Gloucester, Ontario, K1B 5N4, telephone (613) 748-5738, or fax (613) 748-5734.

Organizations will receive access to helpful resources and publications, promotional videos, research and other timely information to help develop and promote workplace active living.

Joe Doiron is a consultant in communications servicing the fitness and recreation community in Canada.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:physical activity's role in employee performance
Author:Doiron, Joe
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Words:1695
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