Losing Has Never Been So Rewarding

By George John, an EO St. Louis member and president of Engineering Design Source, Inc.

When I tell people I run a civil engineering consulting company, I can see their eyes glaze over as they imagine rows and rows of neatly arranged cubicles; men in short-sleeved white shirts contemplating the meaning of pi; calculators working feverishly to figure out the super elevation of a highway pavement.

This image, although favorable in its portrayal of the intellectual capacity of the engineer, is a far cry from the present day engineering office. In fact, our office is a colorful space decorated in sage green and muted mauve, trendily equipped with ping-pong and foose ball tables. The men and women who work in the office are fashionably dressed in “business casual” attire, and although their minds are working hard to figure out the embankment slope, their bodies follow the path of all mortals whose brains work harder than their bodies— weight gain.

As CEO of the company—and in many respects, employee health—I felt it was necessary to come up with an interesting way to motivate employees (myself included) to stay healthy. In 2001, in an effort to combat the inevitable five to seven pounds we all gain each year, I established a weight-loss competition. All employees were encouraged, enticed, maybe even prodded to take part in a seven-month program in which the top three employees who lost the most weight were put in a drawing to win a grand prize.

The grand prize was a tempting package of airfare, hotel accommodations, rental car and one additional vacation day to be spent in a city of the winning employee’s choice. The prize and potential health benefits of the program have been so enticing that 70 percent of our employees participate every year! This program is a highly anticipated event in our office. Beginning in January, those employees who resolve to lose weight sign up for the program, allowing themselves to be weighed in for their “start” weight. Participants are then weighed each month so their progress can be tracked, all for the sake of being the “biggest loser.”

Employees in the program devise their own healthy weight-loss plan, which can include anything from cutting daily calorie intake to incorporating exercise into their daily routine. At the end of the grueling seven-month period there are noticeable changes in the participants, both physically and mentally. The biggest losers gain the most by losing significant amounts of weight, gaining the resultant health benefits, garnering praise from friends and family and being able to qualify for the grand prize. The other losers also benefit because they either lose or did not gain the inevitable five to seven pounds expected each year.

All in all, the weight-loss program has been a boon to our office, because it has provided an incentive for our employees to be healthy in a fun and organized way. Although, I can’t quantify the bottom-line monetary savings of this program, I can state that it has improved employee health, uplifted office morale and encouraged healthy habits. Better yet, it has allowed me to showcase not only the brains, but the brawn of our engineers. As any entrepreneur can attest, being proud of the people you employ is a big reason why success is so sweet.

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