Introduction

The financial burden for companies due to increases in health cost can be traced to lifestyle changes resulting in obesity.  Though companies appear to be aware of this fact, and thus are slowly starting to invest in corporate wellness programs, industries have failed to establish a comprehensive system to improve health.  Research claims of increased productivity and positive Return on Investment (ROI) haven’t been heard.  This proposal intends, therefore, to establish a better understanding of the value of corporate wellness by socially anchoring an active lifestyle to a company’s corporate values.

The Bureau of labor statistics claimed that in 2008 poor health at the workplace cost employers $1.8 trillion a year in health care, with a rising tendency.  The rationale in promoting an active lifestyle at work has been shown by several researchers, leading to an overwhelming 90% of US employers offering some kind of wellness program to counteract the negative impacts of poor health.

However, it can also be shown that only 7% of this group provides integrated and comprehensive programs.  It has been argued that the reason for this is a lack of proof of the effectiveness of those programs beyond measurable items such as direct medical and pharmaceutical claims.  As a solution, research has provided insights on how to calculate productivity measures and most importantly was able to show a positive return on investment (ROI) of approximately $1.65 for every dollar spent.

Surprising, however, is that even in light of this convincing evidence, investment in corporate wellness has been slow.  One reason might be that managers still doubt the trustworthiness of the numbers in light of continuing economic turmoil in the financial markets.  Another reason could be an on average low utilization of corporate wellness programs, probably in combination with a possible legal risk to exclude certain groups and thus to discriminate, specifically if participation is incentivized.

The proposed study will examine ways to utilize a corporate wellness program by highlighting the means rather than the ends.  Further, it will promote parts of such a portfolio in light of its benefits for team building and its ability to foster corporate values and thus make it an important part of a company’s culture.  The latter will be based on the assumption that a corporation constitutes a subculture similar to those established in adventure sports, and that companies can benefit from an adaptation of the meanings and values those events establish.

The researcher has worked in the corporate world for over a decade and had the chance to observe several high stress areas in dynamic industries.  Poor health, burnout, or above average suicide rates, for example, appear to be prevalent in the IT (cf. Foxconn) and telecoms (cf. France Telecom) industry.  This, alongside a slipping identification with corporate values, has created the researcher’s long-term goal to utilize sport and physical activity to improve health, foster strong corporate values, and establish an active lifestyle as key components of a company’s culture.

In particular, this paper tries to create an understanding that corporate wellness and concerns about health need a multitude of approaches to address them.  It further targets to demonstrate that fitness and physical activity can be an effective way to promote values and foster a strong corporate culture.  The researcher, consequently, claims the following:

  • Companies can implement a corporate wellness program with nearly 100% participation if they define health and physical activity more broadly (i.e. health is more than just fitness, health can also include lowering stress levels, financial burdens, alcohol abuse, etc.), understand that different people have different interests, and engage in various activities to live and promote a healthy lifestyle. Merely having a gym facility, for example, is inadequate.
  • It will further be argued that utilizing corporate wellness needs strong management commitment (buy-in). To facilitate an investment, corporate wellness should be built on a pyramid model, founded on a strong business case, supported by high utilization rates, and finally able to shape a business culture by socially anchoring a company’s values to an event which reflects the specific subculture of the enterprise.

The ongoing globalization and intensification of competition has led to battles for internal resources.  Thus, investment in corporate wellness has to be backed up by strong numbers and positive returns.  Understanding the various needs among employees and their perceptions about health will support the implementation of a comprehensive corporate wellness program, facilitating high utilization rates, and consequently further improving the numbers.

Beyond those quantitative measures, the promotion of a healthy subculture can be part of a company’s overall culture.  Many industries suffer from a loss of identification with the values of their company.  It is assumed in this proposal that a corporation can learn from the area of adventure sport, which successfully has developed subcultures with strong internal values among its participants.  A business environment is similar to this type of setting as it reflects a diverse set of people who follow a common goal and should share the same values.

Many researchers have identified a strong linkage between business and sport, usually reflecting on similarities in leadership and interpersonal characteristics.  This paper, however, applies a different view and tries to show how sport and exercise can be utilized to promote a healthy subculture, foster value identification, and consequently reduce costs and increase productivity.

The researcher can be seen as somewhat unique in the field of sport management, as he understands business from both an academic (MBA graduate) and practical perspective (10+ years professional experience).  Furthermore, his strong interest and passion for extreme and adventure sport makes him the perfect candidate to convey meaning and motivation from this subculture to a corporate culture.

The proposal will be built upon a pyramid model that aims at accomplishing the following:

  • Specific aim #1: The foundation of the pyramid is the provision of valid measures for direct medical and pharmaceutical claims, productivity gains, stress reduction, and ROI.  The working hypothesis is that this is an inevitable step needed to make this research applicable.  Management needs reliable / objective evidence to commit to and support such initiatives.
  • Specific aim #2: The core of the model is to build an understanding and to evaluate which set of corporate wellness offerings would maximize participation.  The working hypothesis is that a mixture of exercise programs, health and nutrition workshops, sport and outdoor activities, as well as personal counseling in related areas will fulfill this goal.
  • Specific aim #3: At the top of the pyramid, making corporate wellness part of a company’s culture connects the program to business values and makes it a shared belief.  The working hypothesis is that companies can build corporate wellness around an event which serves as such a social anchor.

This paper combines ideas and research findings from different research areas, but has a new and innovative way of combining these.  It agrees on the need of quantitative measures and understands the argument for comprehensive health promotion in companies.  It goes further, however, and tries to establish corporate wellness as part of a company’s corporate culture.  At the completion of the study, it is expected that we can use the findings to promote corporate wellness on a wider scale, probably even leading to some answers about how to heal our failing health care system.  A phased approach utilizing different tactics to corporate health, along with valid measures to ensure reasonable budgets, and finally, embedding corporate wellness into a company’s corporate culture will lead to a mutually beneficial model for business owners, employees, and overall society.