Check it out! IT Freedom was the fittest company in Austin in February, according to FitRankings, a new corporate fitness website that just kicked off last fall. I know, you’re thinking we must be a bunch of health and fitness fanatics, right? Far from it. With the exception of one or two athlete wannabes (one of whom may or may not be me) we’re all rather typical, fitness-wise. So how did we get to #1?
Short answer: We started an employee wellness program. It’s rather modest in scope, and it’s still a work in progress, but our entire staff has enthusiastically jumped on board (and on bike, track, and grass).
Long answer: We started our employee wellness program in January. I didn’t want just another failed New Year’s resolution, but rather something modest and sustainable—the goal would simply be to get everyone active on a regular basis.
To initiate our —purely voluntary — program, we give every participating employee $50 towards the purchase of a fitness tracker or smartwatch of their choosing, and we encourage them to log enough active minutes each month to meet the CDC’s minimum recommendations. We track everyone’s minutes, and at the end of each month, we hold a drawing for three $50 gift cards from the pool of participants who met the minimums.
In the beginning, we struggled with tracking everyone’s activities, since they vary so much: Jeff runs, Victor does boot camps, Megan walks, Carla does CrossFit, I cycle, and so on. We found no automated way of pulling everyone’s data together and normalizing it, so Jeff, our Director of Operations, just started tracking it all manually in a spreadsheet.
Then a friend of mine pointed me to FitRankings. It supports all kinds of different activities by calculating their "metabolic equivalent time". So whether you're a walker, runner, cross-fitter, cyclist, or hula hooper, it can derive a number for your activity level. It automatically syncs with virtually all of the various fitness devices and websites on the market, including Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin Connect, Strava, and so on. I connected it to my Strava account, for example, so it pulls all my ride data over.
FitRankings scores you on how consistently active you are. If you meet the CDCs minimum activity level of 2000 (metabolically equivalent) minutes per month, you get a maximum score of 100 points. This is a nice metric, I think, because it’s broad-based: it’s not measuring how fast or strong you are, or how many miles you run, just whether you’re consistently getting out there and being active, which is the first and biggest step towards health and longevity.
The site gives us the ability to hold internal, friendly employee fitness competitions and challenges, but it also lets us compete as a company with other businesses in the Austin area. Our corporate fitness score is simply the average of all of our participating employees’ fitness scores. For example, if all of our participants meet the CDC minimum of 2000 activity minutes per month and therefore score 100 individually, our corporate score will also be 100. In the month of February, a whopping 80 percent of our staff participated in the FitRankings scoring, and nearly everyone who participated hit 2000 activity minutes, so our corporate score was 95, making us #1 for “micro” companies in the Austin area. We’re hoping to hit a corporate score of 100 in March.
We’ve also made other changes to improve our collective health and fitness at IT Freedom. In addition to the fitness efforts described above, we've totally revamped our drink and snack offerings for a more holistic approach to employee wellness. We’ve always provided free snacks, sodas, and even beer for staff, but after realizing what many of these items were doing to our overall health, late last year we replaced all the overly sugary drinks with healthier beverages, teas, and so on, and we replaced the overly sugary packaged snacks with healthier snacks and an abundant supply of real fruits and vegetables.
In our weekly staff meetings, we also devote regular time to discussing health-and-fitness related topics. None of us are health experts, but collectively sharing what has worked for each of us is very helpful, keeps everyone's attention focused on their wellbeing, and provides moral support. We also encourage each of our employees to take breaks, short walks, hop on the treadmill in our on-site gym, or get active in other ways.
It has been surprising and very gratifying to me to see how enthusiastically everyone has embraced these changes. Nearly everyone in the company is participating, which is amazing! I'm a very avid cyclist and amateur bike racer, and I want to live a long and healthy life, so it's great to see something that's so personally important to me carry over into our workplace. And the changes we’ve made so far are only the beginning.
We challenge you to get your workplace talking about health, eating better, and getting active together. Maybe you can knock us off our #1 spot on FitRankings...but not without a fight!