In the hit TV show How I Met Your Mother, Barney, a successful yet self-absorbed businessman played hilariously by Neil Patrick Harris, impulsively accepts a bet to run a full New York Marathon with no training – all in the name of showing his friends just how easy it is to run 26.2 miles.
To everyone’s surprise, Barney finishes the event with relative ease and enjoys a perk shared by the other marathoners: free rides all day on the subway. Caught up in the rush of showing off his marathon completion medallion to the other riders, it’s only when Barney tries to walk out of the subway car that reality kicks in. His exhausted legs no longer work and he’s becomes trapped in the dark reaches of the New York subway system, desperate for someone to help carry him home.
I’ve run my share of half- and full marathons and believe there are some parallels and learning opportunities between Barney’s ill-fated entry into the world of distance running and executing employee wellness initiatives.
Impulsivity = Pain
It almost goes without saying that launching a wellness program can’t be something done on a whim. It first requires a great deal of planning, input and buy-in from staff and management alike, and a clear idea of what success looks like. While it may be easy to suddenly start ridding your meetings, training classes, and vending machines of salty snacks and sweet treats in the name of improved employee health, a truly effective program goes far beyond curbing and controlling what employees eat and drink. As Barney’s experience shows, the shorter the preparation, the more painful the failure.
The effort will certainly pay off; the American Society of Training and Development reported in 2010 that organizations that promote health and well-being are three times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation.
It’s the Experience, Not the Winning
It’s easy to reduce employee wellness to a simple finish line: lose a certain number of pounds, walk a certain number of steps each day, keep calories under a certain limit. The unfortunate result of this “meet this goal and you’re well!” mentality is that the attitudes and habits that created the unhealthy lifestyle in the first place aren’t likely to be addressed and may even cause the employee to regress even further than when they started the wellness program.
While it is important for employees to track their progress and performance, it’s even more important for them to realize that a healthy lifestyle has no finish line. It’s an approach to life that evolves with time and experience. The vast majority of participants in half- and full marathons are not running for victory or a shiny medal and free subway ride but to simply prove to themselves that they could do it. And once they do it, the joy of doing it over and over again, outweighs the temptation to slip back into their old ways.
Wellness, then, is a lifelong experience rather than a one-time event. Emil Zatopek, a Czech distance runner and winner of four Olympic gold medals, said it best: “If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”
Manage the Bonk
Also known as “hitting the wall,” the “bonk” is well-known in the endurance sport community as the dreaded point in a race when your stores of energy are completely gone and you can’t move another step. Virtually no distance athlete is immune to condition, but diet, exercise, proper training habits, and rest mitigate its effects.
Regardless of what your credit union’s definition of wellness entails, there will be a time when employee participation, focus, energy, and performance will run low; they’ve bonked and don’t want to continue. Rather than suddenly shutter the program or let it die a slow death from this lack of participation, credit union leaders should reassure employees that this dip is temporary, predictable, and a sign that a change in the program’s structure – or just some time off – might do everyone some good.
Everything Impacts the Run
Barney made a mistake common among novice distance runners: that the race is only about leg strength and health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking on the monumental task of running a marathon – a feat that, ironically, didn’t end well for the Greek soldier who first accomplished it in 490 BC – involves preparing and training virtually every muscle in the body to work together efficiently.
I believe this same mistake happens in defining wellness. It’s not just about weight, food, steps, and sweat. It supports not just the employee’s physical health, but his and her financial, emotional, and even spiritual well-being also. Helping a credit union teammate find lasting health outside of your walls will help them become more productive inside them. It lets them know that they aren’t alone in whatever race they’re running, and that you want to do your part to help them become whole, healthy, and happy.
Andy Janning is president/founder of NO NET Solutions.
Contact 317-727-9657 or AndyJanning.com