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How to further your career by being fit

By Lisa Ziegel



In a tough market job seekers need to have an edge to stand out in a crowd of hopefuls vying for a limited number of positions. Nowadays, with companies seeking to cut their skyrocketing health-care costs, being fit and healthy is more important for jobseekers than ever. Individuals seeking to move up on a career ladder would also benefit from maintaining a healthy level of fitness. In a study conducted by a manager of fitness programs in the curriculum at the Center for Creative Leadership, (an organization dedicated to training upper-level managers and executives for success) managers were asked to rate their peers using a performance review along with the results of a health screening in workshops on campus. The study ran from 2006-2010, and with more than 700 respondents the results compiled effectively pointed out those who were overweight were viewed differently than their leaner counterparts and were perceived as being less effective leaders, less able to perform the duties of their jobs, having less stamina and being at a greater health risk.

Indeed, this is partially true as the risk for heart attacks, diabetes and other diseases increases in accordance with being overweight. In addition to that, there is increased absenteeism due to issues, such as lower back problems or time spent recovering from a stroke or heart attack. And that doesn't even include the issue of "presenteeism" or reduced productivity at work, such as when an employee shows up despite being ill or is not mentally or physically suited to the demands of his/her job. You can imagine that this has a great impact on a company's "bottom line" and can end up being very costly. Now there is a way to determine approximately how much it costs, thanks to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and its online "Obesity Cost Calculator." Part of the agency's "LEAN Works" initiative, the calculator includes a worksheet to gather information about employees, such as wages, medical expenditures, absenteeism, and BMI. The result is an educated estimate based on the strong correlation between having a BMI of more than 25, indicating a high risk for diseases as well as being linked to certain high-risk behaviors (such as a sedentary lifestyle). According to the CDC, in 2008 medical costs for obese employees were 42 percent higher than for those at a healthier weight.

Luckily, this trend is in a position to improve greatly with the addition of health-care reform along with employers realizing that investing in their employees' health can only benefit them in the long run. Giving employees incentives to stay healthy is one option. Offering gift cards, money, decreased health-care premium costs, and more to encourage behaviors, such as quitting smoking and exercising regularly, are just some of the ways this can be incorporated. Creating a "Culture of Health" in the workplace is an essential ingredient in successfully turning an unhealthy tide. This means providing employees with opportunities and setting examples, starting with upper management. A great example of this is the Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, leading the way by visibly participating in physical activity, encouraging businesses and schools to engage employees and students, and then rewarding them. Schools are recognized by receiving grants to use to purchase exercise equipment and start fitness programs. In companies, CEOs and managers should all be leading the way similarly and providing employees with flexible schedules to allow them time to exercise, or a campus in which opportunities to be active are available, such as an onsite fitness center, safe and easily accessible walkways, or even treadmill workstations (yes, these exist) or at least adjustable standing (alternating-with-seated) computer workstations. Some offer discounts on gym memberships, or offer on-site yoga classes, stretch sessions, and more.

The Center for Creative Leadership is working on ingraining this mind-set into the executives they train by offering a fitness program on-campus and teaching them that instead of working longer hours, they can work smarter and still get the job done by taking the time to exercise. We all know the general benefits that result from regular physical activity, but in the working world these benefits can transfer to other areas, such as productivity, increased feeling of well-being, less absenteeism and tardiness, better mood, less stress - - and thus better work relationships, and much more.

Although bias based on a person's weight if they are overweight is illegal in hiring and in the workplace, the fact is that health does matter in influencing employer's decisions if for no other reason than to mitigate the high costs of health care and to ensure corporate productivity. As in honing any other job skill, job candidates would benefit from working on their own health, and being fit is one important aspect of this. Now is a great time for to take advantage of the increased opportunities available to make this happen-being fit can be a smart career move!