IT works out, gets fit

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

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Jason Schell, director of product administration for information technology services at JM Family Enterprises, works out early in the morning, regularly getting in around 5:30 a.m. to exercise before getting an egg-white omelet from the cafeteria and heading to his desk.

Jason Schell works out
Jason Schell works out early in the morning at the JM Family Enterprises on-site gym.

Schell says the on-site 24/7 gym helps him fit exercise into his day, and he says he often bumps into IT workers getting off an overnight shift who are doing an early morning workout before heading home.

"It's all about convenience," he adds.

Other companies are making a push to integrate health and wellness into the DNA of their IT departments.

"Our IT workers do have a challenge fitting work/life balance into their schedules, but I can tell you that the IT workers are highly engaged in our wellness program," says Bob Merberg, wellness program manager at Paychex Inc., a payroll services company headquartered in Rochester, N.Y.

Merberg says there's no single program that attracts techies. Rather, the company and the IT leadership had to build a culture that made health as important as other components of the IT lifestyle.

Walking the walk

Laurie Wright, a database administrator at Paychex, says she has seen an evolution in how her department regards health and wellness programs.

"There was probably initially a lot of hesitation, not because they were concerned that we wouldn't get our work done but because we support production and they were concerned that something might happen when we were out running," she says with a laugh. "But we showed we could handle ourselves. If you work in a stressful kind of environment like IT, you know you have to rely on your co-workers and you can work out plans that can fit everyone's needs."

Wright's an example of that. A 20-year veteran of IT, she led a team of Paychex IT workers that logged the highest number of average steps in the northeast division in the company's most recent eight-week Eat Well, Live Well challenge. Wright says she started wearing a pedometer when she first got involved in the company's wellness program.

"I was surprised to learn that I didn't even walk 2,000 [steps a day]. Now on a normal day I can get 10,000," she says, attributing the improvement to both little changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and using the company's outside walking track. She even walks around her office as she talks.

Wright, who has lost 40 pounds and lowered her blood sugar level, says she has seen some changes in management's attitude toward health and wellness. She says at least one manager is likely to suggest walking the track while meeting with others.

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