Taking measured steps to better health

It’s probably a good sign of corporate health and a reviving economy when you’re company stops trimming headcounts and instead starts a campaign to trim the figures of actual employees.

That’s what we’re seeing at the firm where I work: a three-month company-wide effort to get workers to walk their way to better health – and, not insignificantly, lower health-insurance overhead – through the Green Paces Initiative. Employees sign up to join five-person teams that will count the number of steps taken between June 1 and September 1 at offices throughout the country. (I don’t know if our sites overseas are also participating, but it seems like instituting long treks and reduced caloric intake among our Indian and Sri Lankan staffs would be redundant.) The team that treads the farthest wins a cash prize determined by some complicated raffle system I’ll describe later. Hopefully, this initiative will end better than 2006’s Weightloss Reduction Challenge where, by the final week, people were lopping off limbs to make their goals.

 I first became aware of this corporate initiative during a visit to the men’s room several weeks ago. While the economy was in free fall the preceding six months, all non-essential expenses – travel, employee meals, retirement contributions, quality – were banned by headquarters as too costly. The “green shoot” I saw that morning was a small poster placed at seated eye level on the stall wall. “Get Up Off Your Seat,” encouraged a cartoon frog, somewhat hastily in my particular case. “Join the Green Paces Initiative and Get Healthy.” The frog squatting on a branch didn’t fully appreciate the equal importance of a well-functioning gastro-intestinal system, so I vandalized his protruding butt with several poop drops. (I later had to white these out when a co-worker recognized my work.)

Soon we received an email with more details about the effort. Everyone would be issued pedometers, numbers would be recorded every day and reported to a central office every week, you could pick your own teammates, and a good personal goal each day was put at 10,000 paces. “That’s about 50,000 miles per person per month,” shrieked one of my math-challenged associates. Actually, it’s more like five miles a day. Each quintet would have a Team Captain, and a so-called “Super Captain” would coordinate activities of each site and defend us against evil masterminds out to conquer the world.

Immediately, we had questions, and it soon became apparent why I had made another trip to the men’s room while volunteers were recruited for the captaincy positions. Do other forms of exercise count for anything? Yes, every 15 minutes of yoga, cycling, yard work, mountain-climbing, house-to-house combat, etc., would count as 2,000 steps. What if I forget to wear my pedometer for a day? Enter your average for the preceding week, and don’t let it happen again. What’s with the sign-up waiver? Though the company is interested in your health, they’re not so interested that they’ll assume any legal liability if you die from walking.

The email also contained this disturbing display of distrust by our corporate masters, as well as the germ of an intriguing idea: “Step-count reporting will be on the honor system. Shaking the pedometer is strictly prohibited.” Actually, I wasn’t thinking so much of shaking the thing myself (too much exertion) as I was taking it to Home Depot and strapping it to one of those paint-mixing machines. “If your Super Captain finds out any team member is participating in this behavior, they will be removed from their team immediately.” Yeah, but I’d still have the free paint-stirring sticks.

I decided I truly did want to participate, since I’m already doing daily treadmill work at the Y, and the free pedometers were imprinted with a cool logo. Me and the only other four men on day shift decided we would be a team, as long as we didn’t have to have a nickname, uniforms, team spirit or official cheer. I had one additional concern. As a “team,” would we actually be required to do our walking together, locked arm-in-arm five abreast, strolling through the office park looking like we were marking casual Friday in the Land of Oz? No, I was assured, we could record our exercise as we went about our separate daily routines. We were a team in name only, kind of like a Tour de France bike-racing squad or the Democratic Party.

The five of us, all paunchy forty- or fifty-something family men, did have a brief, informal team-building session, where we joked about how we didn’t really take such corporate nonsense seriously. One speculated whether we could start right at 12:01 a.m. on June 1, so our half-dozen middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom could be counted. Another wanted to wear his pedometer on his pajamas, to see if his insomniac tossing and turning would register. Someone asked, can you count your steps to and from the shower and, if so, where do you hang the pedometer? I broke off for a quick walk around the perimeter of the room, counted the 95-step circuit, and wondered if downtime would soon lead to employees orbiting the office like obsolete spy satellites.

Last Friday, the final workday before the official start, we were going to have a pep rally to get the entire plant in the proper rah-rah spirit, but then we remembered that the warehouse people in the next room were hourly wage slaves who couldn’t be freed from their picking-and-packing routine for such non-value-added nonsense. They’re probably going to defeat us all anyway, since their entire day is spent pacing from pallet to pallet, like caged zoo creatures.

As I write this piece, we’re now in Day Two of the Green Paces Initiative. I recorded an impressive 12,434 steps on the first day and am just over 9,300 for today. The Restless Leg Syndrome that causes uncontrollable twitching in my calf muscles is racking up additional steps as I sit here and type. Everyone at work is getting in the spirit, except for one unfortunate team that’s been decimated by two weddings (wonder if the brides wore their pedometers on their gowns walking down the aisle), a six-week temporary layoff for one member and a car accident for another.

We’re all striving to keep our eyes on the prize, trying to comprehend the so-called raffle that could result in a prize of $200. According to the published rules, “three separate raffles will occur at the end of each of the three four-week periods based on totals of weekly averages. Teams will receive a raffle ticket based on cumulative miles walked. Fifty percent of those teams will receive raffle tickets and at the end of each period will have their names drawn for a prize.”

I wonder how many steps we can count for the mental effort that’s going to be required to figure that one out.

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8 Responses to “Taking measured steps to better health”

  1. goddesspower978 Says:

    LOL!!! Your last line rocks. This program will probably be loaded with blog fodder. Best of luck. Love, Goddess.

  2. planetross Says:

    hee hee!
    If you have a dog, I’d stick that pedometer it … or make a deal with the postman … and start counting that prize money.

  3. planetross Says:

    “on it” … it should have said. I hate typos more than office enthusiastic wars.

  4. Skip Dekades Says:

    Would 15 minutes of sex count as 2,000 steps?

  5. tom1950 Says:

    In my case that would qualify as a Word Record!


  6. vinylrichie Says:

    Ah, corporate style motivation. You’ll walk it.

  7. Revisited: Using your cell phone as a defensive weapon « DavisW's Blog Says:

    […] my up-and-down hip movement as part of the corporate stepping competition I wrote about last week (https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/taking-measured-steps-to-better-health/), I’ve started tacking an evening walk onto the end of each day’s physical activity. The […]

  8. Revisited: Oh, what we’ll do for a job « DavisW's Blog Says:

    […] health initiative at my workplace is now in its sixth week. As I described in my June post(https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/taking-measured-steps-to-better-health/), the so-called Green Paces program encourages employees to improve their physical condition by […]

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