Are Our Employees Not Our Athletes?

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to introduce a panel of CEOs who were discussing the future of healthcare in the corporate setting at the From Day One conference in Boston. I was told by my employer, Oh My Green, to go up and talk about what it is we do and be done with it, but I had some other ideas in mind.

Before I moved to New York I was in Toastmasters for about a year. To summarize, it’s an international organization that helps people develop their public speaking skills. Given that I had some formal training, and that I hate talking at people for no good reason, I decided that I’d prepare a formal speech. I wanted to inspire the audience (primarily people in HR) to shift their way of thinking about their employees’s healthcare needs and what responsibility a company has to take care of its people (in addition to introducing the panel, of course).

Since my background-as it relates to nutrition, at least-is primarily in sports nutrition for athletes, I wanted to suggest that there are parallels between athletes on a formal sports team and employees in a company. You can see my entire speech here. After preparing and delivering the speech I really began to think about this concept and felt obligated to expand on it further in a blog post.

Why Does This Matter?

I’ll tell you why! Six in ten Americans had at least one chronic health condition in the US in 2014 [1]. That’s the latest year that the data were available for when I wrote this and I have a feeling it’s not very different in 2019. Additionally, the US pays a lot in medical/health care costs. I think we’re all aware of that but what you may not know is that 90% of the nation’s total health care spending ($3.3 Trillion) is for people with chronic and mental health conditions [1,2]. WHAT! That means the majority of healthcare expenditures are for conditions that are, in many cases, preventable. I’m completely aware that some folks are unfortunately genetically predisposed to a higher likelihood of developing a chronic or mental health condition but that’s certainly not the majority. Nevertheless, we can almost always do something to prevent these problems or alleviate symptoms.

To summarize, this concept matters because most of us are sick, statistically, and we’re paying way too much for things that we have the power to prevent. To help us become healthier and lower costs I believe it starts with a shift in thinking at an individual and organizational level. What if we treated our employees like athletes and we, the employer/HR/executives, were the coaches and owners of the team?


Employees and athletes have the exact same goal: Perform in their position (role) to the best of their ability so they can contribute to their team’s (organization’s) success. Coaches and companies spend time and money figuring out how to optimize performance and productivity so they can get the edge over their competition and win or produce a better outcome/more value for their customers. Sports organizations know that if they invest in the health & wellness of their athletes (aka employees), they will see the ROI on the field, where it matters. Why don’t we see the same for more companies? It’s intuitive and easy to think that a sports team would give a lackluster performance if their athletes were on a regular diet of Doritos, Coke, and catered Taco Tuesdays + rarely exercised but (for some reason) it becomes harder to take seriously when thinking about office employees.

What we eat, along with our exercise (or lack thereof), has a dramatic effect on not just our bodies but also on cognitive abilities to include creativity. For example, a 2014 study from the University of Otago in New Zealand found an association (correlation does not equal causation) of higher & consistent fruit/vegetable consumption with “more intense feelings of curiosity & greater creativity” when compared with lower F/V consumption [3]. Unfortunately I only have access to the abstract since the full text is behind a paywall (HBR broke it down here though) but I think it’s clear that there might be something going on when people eat more nutritious food. Don’t we want our marketing, sales, operations, etc. teams to be more curious and creative? After all, that’s how innovation occurs right, when our curiosity leads us to challenge the status quo with a solution born from our creative thinking process? It’s not just athletic performance that’s affected by food and exercise. Your athletes in the office can also benefit from investments in their health and well-being.

What To Do

“That all sounds well & good but what do I need to do to get my athletes healthier and more productive?” Beautiful question, dear reader! Here’s a few resources + companies making great strides in the corporate wellness space that can help you get started. Note: I am not sponsored/receive any compensation from any of these companies I list here. These are simply personal recommendations of mine that I believe can actually help.

  • Harvard Business Review provides a thorough listing of the components of an effective wellness program in this article. While I talked mostly about exercise and nutrition in this article it is important to address employee well-being across all aspects of health. The aforementioned article provides a lot of useful real-life examples + insights you can use to begin creating a wellness program that actually gets the famed 6:1 ROI you may have heard of.
  • Oh My Green: I may work for OMG but I am truly a firm believer in our mission of promoting healthier lives at work through nutritious snacking and meal programs. We’re a one-stop shop for all things food/beverage and overall wellness for office settings.
  • Conscioux: A fellow corporate wellness startup that’s Boston-based and started by a highly passionate and smart founder I had met earlier this year. They focus more so on promoting plant-based diets for employees as a means of preventive care. They also connect employees with coaches to assist in the process and utilize technology to track progress.
  • Talkspace: As someone who has benefited greatly from therapy in the last few years I can’t be more excited about this company. It’s really about time that the stigma of therapy is eliminated because it’s going to help so many people overcome challenges and improve their work life. Talkspace is a tele-health platform designed for connecting users with a licensed therapist.

There’s a lot of directions you can go to start treating your employees like athletes and the amount of options may be overwhelming. My suggestion is to simply start with one thing; one aspect of wellness that you feel is most severely impacting your team’s health & productivity. Perhaps physical activity and poor nutrition are apparent in the office or employees are expressing or displaying symptoms of depression or absenteeism is higher during flu season. Developing a plan of action for any of these areas will help employees live better lives and, in turn, will empower them with the ability to be more productive and contribute more to the organization’s growth.

The sooner we look at our employees more like athletes and invest in them as such, the sooner we’ll see their full potential be realized.

How do you promote wellness at work or what are some of the ways your company encourages you to live a healthy life?

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