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Imagine more than 400 consultants stretching, doing sit-ups and pushups, and enjoying healthy meals together as part of a daylong seminar designed to improve their performance and health. That was precisely the scene Oct. 20 as employees of Atlanta-based Deloitte Consulting, a leading professional services consulting firm that focuses on delivery of electronic business products, took part in "CatchFire," a program designed and implemented by La Jolla, CA-based FitnessAge.
CatchFire was part of a series of "Third Friday" events at Deloitte Consulting, explains Annette Tirabasso, a partner in the firm. "Every third Friday of the month, we have all of our professionals come in for an all-staff meeting," she explains. "We have tried to revamp it to make it more exciting and energizing."
In late summer, she says, the decision was made to bring in the FitnessAge people. "We believed that the program would not only be able to provide our people with improved health and fitness habits, but that it would energize them for the workplace," she observes. "This was a team-building exercise. Fitness was the primary driver, but we focused on complete health — diet, motivation, humor, and so on — to improve our overall productivity."
"We knew this was going to be a lot of fun," says Peter McLaughlin, senior vice president of FitnessAge. "One of our main jobs is to really work on peak performance; and over and over, we have found that fitness plays a key role in employees’ attitudes and energies. Also, the key to getting healthy is to get out of the It’s boring!’ mindset and into the attitude that This is a lot of fun, and it’s easy to get into.’"
As its name implies, FitnessAge determines an individual’s "fitness" age, as opposed to his or her chronological age. For example, Fitnessage spokesman and fitness legend Jack LaLanne has an actual age of 86 and a fitness age of 29. Other people might have an actual age of 45 and a fitness age of 63.
A FitnessAge assessment is used to determine the fitness age by testing each employee’s cardiorespiratory performance, body fat percentage, flexibility, strength, and endurance, and then contrasting it with data from more than 60,000 people that have been collected over the past 20 years.
The Deloitte consulting event, which involved 400 of the 600 people who work for the firm throughout the Southeast, was unique by its very composition, says McLaughlin. "Usually, when you do something healthy for yourself you do it individually," he observes. "Here, the whole group took the day off. They were all a little anxious, so we got them together in a seminar to give them a sense of what was behind the program. We talked about life balance, about the importance of a sense of humor, and just really set them up with the incredible benefits they probably had not even thought of. Most of them don’t even really know what fitness is, but this discussion sets them up for the [assessment] test."
Actually, the program began with the very first meal, notes Tirabasso. "Essentially, the day started with a new-and-improved’ healthy breakfast," she says. "We got rid of the bacon and the sausage, and had Egg Beaters, fruit, and muffins."
From 8 to 8:30 a.m., the group broke into table discussions in "home rooms," which are part of Deloitte’s team-oriented structure. "We are grouped into cross-functional teams [of about 50 employees each]," Tirabasso explains. "This gives each team a number of practitioners from diverse perspectives." (Part of the program’s follow-up will be a challenge held over a four-month period to determine which homeroom can improve its fitness age the most.)
From 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., McLaughlin conducted his seminar. Then, from 10:45 a.m. until lunch, all of the fitness assessments were conducted. "The assessments included stair-stepping for three minutes, calculation of percentage body fat, a flexibility test involving standing on your toes, sit-ups for one minute, and maxing out’ on pushups for the endurance test," says Tirabasso.
Even during this part of the program, the teamwork concept held true. "People would hold each other’s feet, and count each other’s pulse rate," McLaughlin notes. "It was really great to see them do this as a team."
Then, the fitness component of the daylong program concluded with a healthy lunch.
The high level of program participation was due in large part to an effective marketing program. "We marketed through our home rooms," says Tirabasso. "Each home room has a partner/leader. In addition, we selected a coach, who is at the level of manager or below. We worked with the partners to communicate to the home rooms about the upcoming assessment."
For the two weeks prior to Oct. 20, the home room leaders and coaches went through the program to experience it themselves and communicate that experience to the other members of the home room. This is to reduce any anxiety they may have felt about the program. "That really helped get attendance up and energize the group," says Tirabasso. In addition, e-mails and voice mails supplemented the other marketing efforts.
The CatchFire program was just the beginning of a process — not an end unto itself. "In February, FitnessAge will come back," says Tirabasso. "We will be reassessed to see if we’ve improved our fitness ages. There will be awards for individuals and for home rooms."
"The whole idea is, What’s measured gets done,’" McLaughlin explains. "We’ll see how many years were dropped individually, but also what the average chronological age and fitness age is for the whole group. In essence, we can determine how much younger Deloitte Consulting is than it was three months earlier. You can absolutely measure the health of an organization this way." In fact, he says, FitnessAge eventually hopes to be able to announce the "Fitness age 100" — the healthiest corporations in America.
FitnessAge also will remain in constant contact with each of the 400 employees. "We’ll be doing e-mails and other follow-ups," says McLaughlin. "We may send out a piece of humor on health, a reminder about the need for nutritional supplements, a piece on exercise, or The 10 best lunches you can eat on the road.’"
Tirabasso has already seen changes in the workplace. "In my project management area, I have two teams competing against one another to lower their fitness ages, and we change our eating habits when we go out as team," she says. "I myself joined a fitness center and have started working out on Sunday. This is a healthy, fun competition."
Tirabasso knows the company will benefit from the program. "The more fit you are, the stronger your performance will be," she says.
McLaughlin says he’s getting a lot of positive feedback from the employees. "We’ve received a lot of great e-mails," he reports. "To go through this experience is really something. When you hand a 41-year-old a fitness age of 68, that is a real wake-up call."
• Peter McLaughlin, FitnessAge, 4250 Executive Square, La Jolla, CA 92037. Telephone: (858) 625-4222. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Annette Tirabasso, Deloitte Consulting, 285 Peachtree Center Ave., Suite 2000, Atlanta, GA 30303-1234. Telephone: (404) 631-2385.