By Hussain K

A company is known by the man it keeps - and the man
in today's competitive world has to be physically fit and merely alert

Does a research analyst working in a finance company have to be a fitness freak? Or, for that matter, does a software professional, who divides most of his time between chips, bits and bytes, have to sport a sinewy, athletic build? Or, does a worker, who sweats it out on the factory floor day in and day out, need to explore the finer realms of yoga?

A few years ago, these questions would have been laughed off as the conjurings of a highly imaginative mind, of a theorist who lived before his time. But not any more.

Today, it would not be wrong to rewrite the hoary saying and render it thus : A company is known by the man it keeps. Especially in these days of cut-throat competition. A physically fit, mentally alert employee is as much a symbol of corporate dynamism as a healthy bottomlines.

Slim is now in vogue and, sometimes, even considered mandatory for certain executives. Thus, now many corporate houses, which hitherto had restricted themselves to reimbursing the medical expenses of their employees, are going a few steps ahead to ensure hat their employees are in perfect trim. And one ay of doing it has been setting up fitness centres in offices, fully equipped with the latest accessories in the market. It also serves to put a subliminal message across to employees - lose your flab to gain in output.

"Nowadays, people are very health conscious. Since employees in an organization put in more hours of work, they hardly find time for themselves. If there is a fitness center in the office, it encourages them to keep themselves fit, and the staleness factor disappears." Says Ravi Bhatia, vice president & director, corporate affairs, Citibank.

The bank has acquired a 500 sq. ft. fitness centre at its administrative office at Parel in central Bombay. Fully air-conditioned, it has a few accessories like an exercycle, treadmill and weight trimming equipment. The centre is open to all employees of the bank in the city.

The raison d'etre of fitness centre at its administrative office at Parel in central Bombay. Fully air-conditioned, it has a few accessories like an exercycle, treadmill and weight trimming equipment. The centre is open to all employees of the bank in the city.

The raison d'etre of fitness centres within office premises is not far to seek, though the companies might differ in the perceptions of their expectations. Those who have set up these centres believe they help prevent sickness, and hence play a seminal role in increasing productivity of the staff. With the pressure mounting on executives for increased output, these centres help them take a break unwind.

The Padampat Gopalkrishna Ramapati group (PGR) is another example. Says Rohini Raman, public relations officer, "At PGR, each employee keeps himself fit by spending a few moments in office doing four-five light exercises, followed by meditation and yoga."

PGR also has a club house at Jhalawar where facilities for indoor games are available. Besides, each company in the group offers different sports to keep their employees fit and entertained. The Urjatharam unit organises a sports event - Power sport - every year. A marathon was organised at the Micron unit for company employees.

PGR also has a community activity centre in which executives' wives play an active role in organising sports activities. The event most looked forward to during the year is a festival cricket match played annually on January 26, in which the game is played between mixed teams of men and women. The women are allowed to bowl underarm. And fours and sixes are not really worth it because a male batsman is declared out if he hits a boundary when a woman bowls.

However, the trend is still nascent. Among those who have gone for these facilities are not only multinationals and the cream of corporate houses in the country, but also public sector institutions. For instance, the headquarters of the Unit Trust of India (UTI) at Marine Lines in south Bombay is equipped with a sophisticated fitness centre and has an ambience to match the swanky exterior and interior of fitness centres at deluxe hotels.

Situated in the basement, the UTI centre has three divisions - a general exercise room that is equipped with sophisticated machinery, including a multi-station unit; a yoga room: and a sauna and Jacuzzi section. One can swirl on a circular disc to trim the girth, do pull-ups to invigorate the muscles or reduce weight, or retie into the yoga room and delve into the limitless realms of the psyche. Immaculately clean and well-maintained, the centre is open after 5.30 pm, and is the meeting ground for the around 500 employees of UTI working in the same building, as well as in the three adjacent buildings in which UTI has offices. A few from its office at the World Trade Centre in south Bombay also visit the centre regularly.

"The very nature of our job involves a lot of stress. In such a situation, working out n the centre can help maintain the equilibrium between the body and mind," says Sudhir Kumar Dash, assistant general manager, Research and Planning - UTI. According to Dash in the case of many executives, work sometimes stretches late into the night. In his own department it's routine for executives to stay back till at least 7 pm. "If I have to stay late, I spend half an hour in the evening in the centre and then feel completely recharged," he adds.

The centre was the idea of S A Dave, former chairman, who believed that setting up such a facility was another way of saying that the organisation cared for its staff. "Abroad, organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank provide these facilities to their employees. And any company that is seriously concerned about their employees' welfare would do the same," he says. In a city like Bombay where employees spend a lot of time commuting, such centres are all the more necessary, he adds.

There are a few factors that have encouraged companies to stress on healthcare. Liberalisation resulted in increased interaction between Indian companies and their foreign counterparts and since these facilities are common abroad.

In Bombay, socio-geographic factors are also important reasons for setting up fitness centres on office premises.

"Shortage of space is a major constraint for companies who want to set up fitness facilities."

Hiru Bijlani
Management Consultant

Frazzled after work, executives find themselves with little time for exercise and even if they do, there are not her constrains like shortage of space and facilities. The city itself exposes them to health hazards and in such a scenario, an office is the best suited to take care of their needs.

Some companies permit even family members of employees to use these services. For example, CMC's fitness centre in Bandra-Kurla complex in Bombay is open for the use of family members of the staff on Saturdays. "Even then, the fitness culture is yet to set in our country. And the facilities are not being made use of in a way it should have been." Says Fabio Dias, senior engineer at CMC, who is in charge of these facilities. The centre occupies a 1,000 sq. ft. area on the top floor of the eight-storeyed building and the facilities it offers include Jacuzzi, rowboat cycles, parallel bars, hydraulic pedal push, etc.

What is more even food is coming into the purview of corporate health watchers. At PGR, for instance, each employee has to take a balanced meal that is either cooked in the factory or served by a contractor. The menu changes according to the season and requirement. Occasionally, wives of executives visit the company canteen and eat with the employees. They comment on the food and suggest changes, if required in the quality of the food served.

In an interesting development a year ago, the food was linked to attainment of company targets. Throughout the year, a partial fast was observed by the company employees on the second Tuesday of each month. On the day, only soup and fruits were served in place of complete meals. Thoughtfully enough, this was not made binding on every employee.

However, in many offices that have these facilities, the awareness among employees is low. For instance, of the 350 people working in the CMC building, only four use it regularly, and the women hardly think of using them. But the management often exhorts the staff to make use of these facilities by issuing notices. "We display on the notice board brochures and pamphlets that educate people about maintaining good health and the need for daily exercises, adds Dias.

There are other companies that emphasise yoga and gymnasium activities. Larsen & Toubro conducts yoga classes every month for its employees at its Powai office in Bombay, for which it avails of the services of yoga experts.

"People living in cities are prone to blood pressure, diabetes and psychosomatic problems. Yoga helps control these ailments and is a good preventive measure," says Dr. R. C. Panjwani, chief medical officer of L & T. The company has a gymnasium with body building facilities. Incidentally, an employee of the company has won the Maharashtra shree title. L & T is now planning to set up a full fledged fitness centre soon.

"Prevention is better than cure" seems to be the motto of those who have set up health centres and fitness facilities in offices. And the regular use of these facilities by executives can produce good results: prevent sickness, increase productivity, reduce fatigue and stress and create a healthy atmosphere in the workplace.

"The expenses incurred on setting up fitness centres and acquiring fitness equipment are nominal compared to the longterm benefits they give," says Dias.

According to Hiru Bijlani, author and management consultant, the advantage of having fitness centre in the office itself are three-fold: it saves on time for the staff, saves on cost for both the employer and the employee, taking into consideration the fees health clibs are charging; and it creates enthusiasm among employees and instills confidence in them. "But in the city like Bombay, shortage of space is a major constraint for companies who want to set up such facilities," says Bijlani.

Companies that have sprawling complexes are in a better position to offer these facilities to other staff. The Godrej office at Vikhroli in Bombay, which has got residential quarters for its staff along with its corporate offices has all the recreational facilities inside a school building on its premises. This is regularly used by all the employees of the company.

So much emphasis is now being laid on healthcare that an increasing number of companies, which don't have in-house facilities are encouraging their employees to join health clubs and fitness institutions. For example, Talwalkar's Institute, a leading fitness institute in Bombay, has offered its services t various companies, including the Kirloskar group, Phillips, Venkatesh Hatcheries Ltd. Etc. The institute charges Rs.4,000 - 7,000 per person and appoints a special instructor for the company if the group comprises around 15 members, all of whom attend the course at the same time.

Madhukar Talwalkar, director of the institute, however, says that he is not keen at the moment on attracting more companies in Bombay. The reason he cites is shortage of space. The institute's branch in Pune, however, is fully equipped to provide all sorts of services. "A few companies like the American Express and Air-India have been talking to me for quite some time now, but nothing has materialised as they are haggling over the fee," says Talwalkar.

While companies might find it difficult to incorporate a fitness centre in their existing offices due to various reasons, many, who are setting up new offices now, are adding a fitness centre to it. No wonder, because with the new found emphasis on human resource development, healthcare has become an integral part of the management philosophy of companies.

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