During my research writing The Healthy Workplace, I got the opportunity to meet Sam Whiteside with The Motley Fool, a 350 person financial services company headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. She is their Chief Wellness Officer and has managed to get 90% of the company’s staff engaged in their wellness program – no small feat. After speaking with Sam, and meeting with the employees she helps every day, I got a really good picture of what it means to be a great wellness coach and leader. I followed up with her recently again, and asked her to share some of her insights.
LS: Describe your role at The Motley Fool.
SW: My role as the Chief Wellness Officer at The Motley Fool is truly all-encompassing. I am an on-site personal trainer, health coach, group exercise instructor, group exercise manager, overseer of our massage program and healthy snack program, health education promoter, and the master of finding new ways for Fools to stay healthy in and out of the office.
LS: What is your background? How did you get where you are today?
SW: I have a double B.S. degree from Virginia Tech in Exercise and Health Promotion and Community and International Nutrition. I am currently working on my Master of Public Health via UNC-Chapel Hill’s online Public Health Leadership Program and plan to be finished in the spring of 2016. I also have numerous health and wellness certifications which include: Certified Health Education Specialist (from NCHEC), Certified Exercise Physiologist (from ACSM), Certified Personal Trainer (from NASM), Youth Exercise Specialist (from NASM), Schwinn Cycling Classic Instructor, TABATA Bootcamp Instructor, and Nationally Certified Water Fitness Instructor.
I believe I got where I am today because health education is my passion. It is my fire inside of me that doesn’t need to ever be re-lit because it is always burning. There is always someone that I can be helping, a new health discount that I can acquire for my employees, recent health literature that I could be reading, a new group exercise class I want to add to the calendar, an organization I want to pair up with. I am a very determined individual and I am lucky to have found my passion and even more so that I get to do what I love every damn day.
LS: The concept of “Chief Wellness Officer” is an emerging one. Do you think the position will become more prevalent in the future?
SW: I do believe the position of Chief Wellness Officer will become more prevalent in the next 5 years. More and more medium and large companies are finally coming over to the side of wellness and are seeing amazing results in their organizations. The position of a Wellness Program Director or Officer should carry the same weight and importance as a CFO, CTO, and dare I say it, CEO. If you don’t have healthy employees you don’t have employees at all.
LS: What are some cool initiatives you are working on now?
Right now I am in the middle of finalizing details for my Annual Health Fair. This is an event that is open to all full-time Fools and their spouse or domestic partner. Free flu shots, free biometrics, gait and shoe assessments, massage, physical therapy consults, healthy snacks, giveaways, games, etc. are all going down on one floor on one day. The fun twist this year is that I am working with another Fool who happens to love bacon and once the Fair is over we will be jointly hosting a bacon happy hour and only Fools who attended the Fair can come and grab bacon, turkey bacon, and even a bacon inspired drink. The thing is, if you don’t make health FUN you will automatically lose half of your audience. Health and wellness is very personal and is all about balance and having fun doing it. It took me a while to realize this and the sooner other health professionals realize you have to give a little to get a little, the better results they will see with client engagement and retention.
LS: For those who are interested in reading more about you, where can they go?
SW: 2015 was a great year for me as a health professional. I was featured in:
- The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/companies-take-a-broader-view-of-employee-wellness-programs/2015/06/08/e3b3f2c4-e1ed-11e4-81ea-0649268f729e_story.html
- Mashable http://mashable.com/2015/05/15/unique-corporate-wellness-programs/
- Washington Business Journal http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2015/07/23/here-are-the-wbjs-healthiest-employers-finalists.html
- Washington Business Journal http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/print-edition/2015/08/14/he-wearables-wave.html
- SmartCEO http://www.smartceo.com/2015-washington-healthiest-company-the-motley-fool/
- Snack Nation http://www.snacknation.com/blog/successful-corporate-wellness-programs/
Feel free to find and contact me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/samitrisharder or on Twitter via @tmfiworkout.
LS: What health or wellness professional do you most admire (past or current) and why?
SW: A few health professionals I admire include Jillian Michaels, Sanjay Gupata, M.D., Marion Nestle, Ph.D., MPH, Michael Pollan, Richard Simmons (yup, I said it), and Michelle Obama. My long time nickname has been “Jillian” and I take this as a compliment as it can be difficult to be encouraging, empowering, sometimes aggressive or overly honest, and yet passionate and empathetic but it works for her and it works for me. Dr. Gupta is a trusted source for all health information and even after he humbly declined the position of Surgeon General he remains true to his roots and love of medicine. Dr. Nestle is my source of information for all things nutrition and food politics. Michael Pollen is a positive and unwavering voice of reason in the field of food philosophy. His books change lives. Richard Simmons has been encouraging people of all shapes, sizes, and fitness abilities to get up and get moving for decades. His spirit, positive energy, and compassion have yet to be matched today. Last but not least is Michelle Obama. She may not be considered a health or wellness professional but she sure has been making waves in the health world since 2009. Mrs. Obama not only has focused on the eradication of childhood obesity but also of healthy eating and growing your own vegetables. She has fun while promoting healthy lifestyles and sustainable changes. That’s a double win.
LS: Five years from now, what will we all be talking about as it relates to health and wellness?
SW: It is hard to tell what we will be talking about in five years as it relates to health but if I had to make an educated guess we will still be talking about the rising rates of obesity in the United States. This massive issue is not going anywhere and has no one step solution. It will require businesses large and small, community organizations, health departments, local and state governments, and policy change on a national scale. Talk to me in five years and we can compare 2015 and 2020 obesity rates and see if I was correct.