Many of you have probably never heard of Ben Pobjoy. While he may not be a household name, some of you may have seen his YouTube video or read about his incredible story of weight-loss, exercise and community spirit. In 2014, Pobjoy moved to Toronto to start a new job and quickly realized he was the unhealthy guy in the office – overweight and out of shape with poor eating habits. In 2015, he set a New Year’s resolution to walk 2,015 kilometres. He ended up walking more than 5,800 kilometres and in doing so lost 100 pounds.
Pobjoy’s story is an inspiration for us all. The World Health Organization has stated 80 per cent of Type II diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, as well as 40 per cent of cancers, could be averted with simple lifestyle and behavioural changes.
Employers with corporate health and wellness programs can learn from Pobjoy’s journey, which can be applied to many aspects of our lives.
Lesson 1: Recognizing there’s a problem
Pobjoy was a healthy guy when he was younger, but years of unhealthy behaviour, such as a sedentary lifestyle, drinking too many sugary sodas and eating too much fast, takeout food, eventually took its toll on his body, which tipped the scale at 250 pounds. It often takes a wake-up call for someone to make a change and for Pobjoy that was comparing himself to his new coworkers who were much more fit and healthy.
Health risk assessments and biometric screenings may help give employees the wake-up call they need. Employees may not be aware they have health and/or behavioural issues until they see their personal results benchmarked against healthy norms. Analyzing your employees’ health, prescription drug use, absence and disability rates, employee assistance plan statistics and other data can also help to uncover health issues in your employee population, so you know where to focus your health and wellness efforts.
Lesson 2: It starts with a single step
When Pobjoy started his New Year’s resolution he had no idea what he would actually accomplish. He says: “Most of us don’t realize what we’re capable of. It just starts with a single step, you just have to start moving.” Even after we recognize there’s a problem, many of us still fail to take that critical next step. Make sure your health risk assessment includes a call to action for employees at risk and that it‘s easy for them to start taking action right away, whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking or increasing their physical activity. A good health risk assessment will have links to resources, coaching, etc. that deal specifically with the identified health risk.
Lesson 3: Track your progress
Pobjoy credits technology as a motivator in maintaining his behavioural changes. He used several health apps on his smartphone to track his steps, weight loss and what he was eating. Being a competitive guy, striving to improve on his scores (i.e., more kilometres, reduced pounds and consuming more nutritious foods) helped to further encourage Pobjoy to achieve his goals.
There are dozens of wearable devices to help your employees track everything from physical activity and calories burned to heart rates and sleep. All of these can be synced to a website and conveniently monitored through a mobile phone app. Employers can also track the overall health of their employee population by establishing a baseline and measuring changes in results over time.
Lesson 4: Mix it up
Once Pobjoy started to shed pounds and increase strength, he added variety to his routine with boxing and swimming. He also worked with a nutritionist to improve his diet. Many health and wellness tracking websites offer employers the ability to create challenges and offer nominal prizes. You aren’t going to get everyone to start running, but even behavioural micro-changes by a fraction of your employee population can lead to meaningful results. Challenges can target anything from steps, total distance walked, hours of activity to nutrition, hydration and weight loss.
Lesson 5: Give it purpose
While walking around Toronto and other cities Pobjoy would travel to for work, he started to really notice the homeless people living on the streets. So, he started making sandwiches and offering them to the homeless. This small act of kindness made a big difference to someone who was hungry and gave Pobjoy further motivation to go out for a walk.
Exercising for a cause or charity is a great way to increase employee commitment and encourage participation by employees who may not otherwise be motivated to engage in physical activity. Hopefully, by the time the actual charity event takes place, behavioural changes will have already started to take root in forming better habits.
Not all employees will have Ben’s kind of grit and determination in accomplishing their health and wellness goals. There is a Chinese proverb, which states: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The most important key to success is to just getting employees to start doing something.