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Shape Up

A healthy workplace starts at the top.

Diabetes, obesity, stress: These are just a few of the enemies of business productivity today. And while they may seem overwhelming for entrepreneurs attempting to create a healthy work force, the solutions, in fact, are not--provided you're willing to help employees go the extra four-minute mile.

The best way to encourage employees to get fit is by providing "human support," says Jay Vandegrift, founder of workplace wellness provider Wellness Coaches USA. That can mean hiring an on-site wellness coach or, for businesses on a limited budget, simply creating a corporate culture that values wellness.

"The conventional approach [to employee wellness] is tech-driven," says Vandegrift. Indeed, there is no shortage of websites and coaching programs designed to help users monitor their daily exercise and record their caloric intake. However, these kinds of remote solutions won't necessarily get employees to permanently change their unhealthy habits. On the other hand, "with the expenditure of modest resources, a company can build a culture and work environment that is committed to wellness values," says Vandegrift. "Remove the unhealthy foods, modify the choices in the cafeteria and have the people who lead the company demonstrate their commitment to wellness."

Jon S. Wheeler, CEO of Wheeler Interests, has had corporate wellness at the core of his real estate acquisition, development, leasing and management firm since he started the company in 2000. At his Virginia Beach, Virginia, firm, he turned an office into a small gym, brought in a personal trainer, launched smoking cessation and other wellness programs, and implemented various perks designed to make health and fitness an easy choice for his employees. For instance, employees can take a midday kayaking break, and the company has no vacation policy--meaning employees are trusted to set their own vacation times as long as they get their work done. In August, Wheeler also held the first Wheeler Dodgeball Benefit Tournament to benefit local elementary and middle school students through the nonprofit Horizons Hampton Roads.

The company, whose portfolio includes 3.2 million square feet of property has an average worth in excess of $560 million and generates between $13 million and $15 million in revenue annually. And with only two smokers out of 34 employees--a significant drop from before the smoking cessation program launched--Wheeler has not only created a healthy business, but also a healthy work force."Employees are appreciative and supportive of the concept," says Wheeler, 47. "We're always looking for ways to make [Wheeler Interests] a better place."

This kind of attitude will undoubtedly pay off in terms of reduced costs and a loyal work force. "Companies that get their employees to improve their lifestyles can begin to [manage] health-care costs and sick days and increase productivity and morale," says Vandegrift. What's more, "It shows [you] care about [your] employees." For more information, visit entrepreneur.com/wellness, launching September 1st.

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance writer and the founder of Rain Frog Apparel, a bamboo clothing company in Southern California.

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the September 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Shape Up.

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