A Job Interview On Ellipticals? Welcome To The Wellness-Crazed Workplace

workplace wellness
workplace wellness

When Rachel Cooper went for a job interview at a Maryland company last August, she wasn't sure what to expect. After all, it was her first job interview since graduating from the University of Miami. But the 23-year-old never imagined she'd be fielding questions from an interviewer who was working out on an elliptical machine.

"I definitely knew this was going to be a different kind of place to work in," says Cooper. Some eleven months later, Cooper, a program assistant at Wellness Corporate Solutions, LLC, a corporate wellness consultancy based in Cabin John, Md., has become accustomed to seeing colleagues doing business in yoga pants and shorts, holding "walking" meetings, and excusing themselves for "Tabata" breaks, which is an intense aerobic exercise regimen.

Back in 2004, WCS was founded by entrepreneurs Juliet Rodman and Fiona Gathright who sensed a demand for workplace wellness expertise. Now the company has 39 full-time employees and over 150 clients including consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and Marriott Hotels & Resorts. It is part of the growing emphasis on "corporate wellness" programs designed to improve employees' health -- and lower employee medical expenses.

According to the Towers Watson annual employer survey, the number of companies offering financial incentives to get healthier has nearly doubled, from 36 percent in 2009 to 61 percent. (WCS offers an iPad to the employee who improves their running time the most in their "soldiers' challenge." The event invites workers to keep track of their times over an eight-week period for two-mile runs.)

While wellness programs at many companies range from an occasional yoga class during lunchtime and gym memberships to group competitions, the trend is likely to accelerate in light of the Affordable Care Act. Recently upheld by the Supreme Court, the ACA hikes rewards from employer wellness program to 30 percent of the cost of employee health benefit costs -- up from 20 percent.