IT works out, gets fit

Plenty of fitness programs are offered to IT employees, but it takes a top-down commitment to get results

The phrase "team-building exercise" has a literal meaning for the IT staff at JM Family Enterprises Inc.

A group of tech workers plays pickup basketball in the company's parking garage in an area that executives have agreed to keep clear for the hoop and the regular lunchtime games. Another group of IT workers heads out to run together, while another works out at the same time in the company gym.

Damon Giangrande and Jose Zabala play pickup basketball in the JM Family Enterprises parking area
Damon Giangrande and Jose Zabala play pickup basketball in the JM Family Enterprises parking area.

This commitment to on-the-job fitness isn't just tolerated by IT executives there -- it's encouraged.

"It allows folks to stay fit, burn off some stress, to work together and build relationships," says Shawn Berg, vice president of technology operations at the Deerfield Beach, Fla., company.

Companies with corporate fitness and wellness programs have a diverse selection of offerings for their workers, from health fairs during business hours to 24/7 corporate gyms to on-site medical services. While these programs benefit workers in all departments, the leaders of the health initiatives and IT executives say getting tech staffers on board presents some challenges as well as opportunities.

"In our IT services, folks are for the most part sedentary, so there's a lack-of-activity issue. They are exposed to a high degree of stress. And they're so diligent and passionate about what they do that the day or night goes by and they haven't gotten up to do anything for themselves," says Richard Luceri, M.D., vice president of health care services at JM Family Enterprises. (Read more about IT's on-the-job health hazards.)

Luceri says he works with managers in all departments to make sure they encourage their workers to make time to take care of their health.

"It's really a trickle-down phenomenon. If it doesn't come from the top to encourage the associates to stay healthy, then it's not going to happen," he explains.

A department priority

IT managers are getting the message. Berg says his department discourages using e-mail and holding meetings after 5 p.m. so workers feel like they can move on to their own activities. ("It sounds goofy but it makes a big difference," he says.) Lunch meetings are also discouraged, he says, to keep that time free for those basketball games, daytime runs and midday gym sessions (followed up with showers in on-site locker rooms).

Berg isn't just paying lip service to the topic. IT managers really do help workers make their own health a priority.

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