By Deanna C. White
For many people personal wellness can be a very personal issue, so the idea of instituting a company-wide fitness program can seem a daunting task for many healthy-minded accounting firms.
But ask Ed Sipowicz, Jr., proprietor of Edward Sipowicz, Jr. CPA, in Northborough, MA, and he'll tell you that doesn't have to be the case.
When Sipowicz, who is also a certified personal trainer, decided two years ago that he wanted to encourage his staff to focus on their personal wellness, especially during the grueling tax season, he started with the simplest of steps.
He placed a fruit basket next to the obligatory box of donuts in the company lunchroom, and the office's health quest began.
Start a Wellness Program Today!
For anyone hoping to institute a wellness program at their firm, Sipowicz offers the following advice:
- Start small. Do something little, like bringing in healthy snacks or water bottles, to get the effort rolling.
- Do not make the program mandatory. Offer it in a passive way as an alternative to behaviors that already exist. "People have to want to participate," Sipowicz said. "They already know what the right choice is; just offer it to them as another way of doing things."
- Lead by example. If the person who starts the program "walks the walk" the program will gain traction.
- Incentivize participation with fun contests that produce immediate returns. People can become discouraged by, or distracted, from contests with long range goals, like losing ten pounds. Contests should promote short term goals, like sleeping eight hours a day or eating four salads per week, for small rewards.
"I just wanted to put together a healthier place and encourage people to eat right under stressful conditions. When you're working 14 to 16 hours a day, and you're eating big calories and big carbs, the only thing you want to do is take a nap," Sipowicz said.
Sipowicz said he'd be lying if he said the fruit basket immediately eclipsed the chips and crackers, but over time participation grew. "People really began jumping in," he said.
Recently, that "jumping in," and the company's now-comprehensive wellness program, earned the firm the honor of being named one of AccountingWEB's 2011 Fittest Accounting Firms
Three firms were selected as winners based on criteria that included:
- Fitness activities offered within the accounting firm
- Wellness programs and coaching offered to employees
- Firm-wide encouragement of fitness activities during the workday
- Reimbursement programs for fitness/wellness activities
- Firm-wide team sports
- Fitness incentive programs
- Availability of ergonomic furniture/equipment
Participating firms competed with others in the same size bracket, and one winning firm was selected from each bracket:
- Firm size 1-10 members
- Firm size 11-50 members
- Firm size 51+ members
At Edward Sipowicz, Jr. CPA, firm members are encouraged to participate in Crossfit training classes twice a week in the morning as well as at lunchtime. There is a walking path right next to the office. Staff members have the option of choosing a bosu ball in lieu of a traditional desk chair.
The typical vending machine snacks and cupcakes have been replaced by fruit salads, and employees often opt for bottled water, provided by the firm, instead of coffee or soda.
Sipowicz also encourages a little "healthy" competition among firm members by organizing bi-weekly contests where employees can win small prizes like gift cards or a one month health club membership for healthy habits like eating fruits and vegetables or daily exercise.
"The contests spur people to think in the right direction," Sipowicz said. "They know that they don't have to sit for five hours straight imputing tax returns. They can step away and exercise to restore their energy."
Sipowicz said the effect has been marked, both for the firm and firm members.
Towards the end of tax season everyone is still understandably drained by the long hours, but firm members say their energy level and their mood has improved dramatically. The firm has also experienced increased productivity, greater efficiency in processing returns, and an amplified sense of camaraderie as employees bond over wellness-focused activities like sharing healthy recipes.
"If you start small and give people the choice to participate you will see the participation build," Sipowicz said. "It takes on an energy of its own."