Olympics Are Increasing Productivity

XBox as a sport?

XBox as a sport?Is the Olympics killing your business? Every two years, companies worry about the drop in productivity that might happen if employees focus too much on watching television and checking medal counts online. Even without the distraction of a major televised sporting event, lots of companies discourage time away from one’s desk. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog at all, you’ve probably already guessed that the Fool does things differently!

Obviously, companies want to get the most value out of each of their employees. But creating a culture of non-stop, nose-to-the-grindstone working isn’t going to accomplish that. Quite the opposite – a seemingly counterintuitive approach that allows for breaks will actually make your employees work harder and get more done. It’s science!

Study after study has proven that the best and most sustainable way to work is to take short breaks throughout the day. This system also works well when studying for a test – taking a breather after a burst of uninterrupted studying allows your brain to retain more information. And since sitting all day apparently will kill you, the occasional 10-minute stroll around the office park has even more benefits than helping clear your head.

Beyond just taking a break on your own, gathering around the water cooler with your colleagues goes far beyond looping you in on office gossip. It makes a company, overall, a happier place to work. And employees are still more productive than they would be without breaks!

At the Fool, we have televisions all over the office. Whether it’s the Olympics, March Madness, or presidential election coverage, Fools are welcome to take a break and watch some TV. It creates a more fun and trusting environment, and makes us all closer to each other!

So the next time your employees are gathered around the break room television cheering on Michael Phelps, you should join them. You’ll bond, you’ll relax, and you’ll return to your desk ready to tackle your work.

Keep Learning…Wherever You Go

BicycleSPACE

BicycleSPACEThe proverbial “they” say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. “They” also say that one should be constantly learning and growing. At The Motley Fool, we believe a bit of both. While we know we’re a great place to work, we also know that other businesses are doing incredible things when it comes to taking care of their employees and customers. Fortunately for us, most places are generous in sharing with us what makes them so special.

We’ve sent Fools out on what we call Expeditions in Learning to well-known companies like Zappos, REI, and Whole Foods. But some great places to check out might be right in your own backyard – or in my case, down the street. BicycleSPACE is a bike shop in my up-and-coming DC neighborhood that has quickly become a center for the city’s cycling community. The owner graciously spent time with me recently, and here’s what I learned:

  1. Hire the best people and take care of them: BicycleSPACE’s mechanics, combined, have decades of experience building and maintaining bikes. I’ve had my bike tuned up there, and have sent friends there when their own bikes needed repairs. After meeting the staff, I wouldn’t send my bike anywhere else. Usually winter is a slow time for bike shops, but to keep their staff working (and bringing home paychecks), BicycleSPACE offered a Groupon for tune-ups. They didn’t make much money off of the deal, but it kept the shop busy and morale high.
  2. Know your Business: The mechanics, as I mentioned, are extremely skilled. The buyer has been a self-proclaimed bike nerd since childhood. The owner works with the DC city council on bike advocacy issues. They don’t just sell bikes to whoever will pay for them – they know and stand behind the products they sell, they understand how city politics can affect their business, and they understand their competition. That said…
  3. Don’t sweat the competition: Do what you do best, and the business will come. In the case of cycling, competition is a good thing. The more bike shops there are, the more biking becomes a normal part of life in DC. This ultimately benefits BicycleSPACE in the long run.
  4. Be welcoming to everyone: In the U.S., most cycling is done for sport. Walking into a shop as a newbie can be intimidating – the gear, the $3000 road bikes…if you’re not a triathlete, you feel like you just crashed a party. BicycleSPACE aims to make everyone feel like they belong. If you tell them you’re buying your first bike since childhood, and you want it to be red and have a wicker basket on the front handlebars, they congratulate you and hook you up with a bike that fits your needs and budget. At The Fool, we know investing is an intimidating thing for people to do for the first time. If they think they missed the boat and started too late, we just congratulate them for joining us and help them get started!
  5. Build a community: BicycleSPACE offers informal rides, yoga classes, and other events that generate word-of-mouth publicity and create new customers. It’s also a great way to market toward women because women really value community. At The Fool, our community is a rich source of investing information, and a pool of people we often hire from.

I learned all of that in one hour! If you have the time, I encourage all of you to take your own Expedition in Learning. Interview the owner of a local business, or check out a company headquartered in your hometown. You never know what you can learn or what idea the visit may spark.

Washington Post On Fool Health

Ben Sterling and Billy Blanks

The Fool got some great love from Vicky Hallett at the Washington Post today: 

The Motley Fool might be the healthiest workplace in Washington

Don’t pity the Motley Fool. And certainly don’t pity Ben Sterling, a 29-year-old who’s been with the financial services company in Alexandria since 2007. When he decided to quit his software-testing job to follow his dream of becoming a personal trainer, his bosses asked him to stay on as the trainer for the office’s 200 employees. His title for the past year: the Wellness Fool.

As the first person to fill the position, he’s been responsible for managing all of the company’s wellness initiatives, which include health fairs, subsidized visits from a masseuse (it’s $5 for 20 minutes, $10 for 40), exercise activities and a vending machine overhaul.

“We’re trying to get people on the right path,” says Sterling, who knows what it’s like to stray. It was his personal experience of losing 50 pounds in college that inspired him to pursue fitness professionally.

Back when he arrived at the Fool, Sterling learned that the company encourages the creation of clubs. There’s one for knitting, another for wine. Sterling formed the fitness club and began leading boot-camp-style classes. With his new job, that’s evolved into Foolish Fitness, hour-long exercise sessions he holds five times a week in a conference room.

“There are tons of amazing benefits here, but this is by far the best one,” says 35-year-old Liz Cherry, who works in marketing. (Those other benefits include unlimited paid vacation, by the way.) She hasn’t had much time to get to the gym since having a baby, but she can always make it to a class down the hall at 4 p.m. And she feels even better knowing there’s encouragement from the top. “The CEO gave us permission,” Cherry says. “If he’s hired Ben, he wants us to do it.”

It’s easy to see why. Forty-year-old Vivek Karandikar, a database administrator, credits Sterling’s classes for motivating him to accomplish things he never would have done on his own. Committing to the exercise program has allowed him to get off of several medications.

For co-workers who’d prefer free one-on-one training, Sterling does that, too, at the office or at nearby Jungle’s Gym (where the company reserves the basketball courts on certain mornings). He can’t feasibly meet with everyone weekly but instead focuses the sessions on developing fitness plans. He checks back every four to six weeks and adjusts exercises accordingly.

Between the classes and individual training sessions, he’s worked with more than half of the employees in the office.

Stocking up

Everyone on staff has tasted the fruits of another of his labors: the healthy fridges. There used to be crackers, chips, candy and cookies for the taking scattered all over the office, but now twice a week Sterling stocks two fridges full of an assortment of goodies from Whole Foods Market: wraps, Greek yogurt, bowls of fruit, string cheese, hummus and veggies. “It’s all free,” he says. “They can take food whenever they want to. We just ask people not to abuse it.”

Still hungry? The vending machines also look different these days. Although you can still find some naughty stuff, it’s no longer subsidized by the company. Candy used to cost a quarter, Sterling says. Now, it’s a buck. That money has gone to help lower the cost of better choices. One machine is entirely stocked with discounted smarter snacks, including bags ofPirate’s Booty for 50 cents and Clif Bars for 75 cents.

The next step

The Fool also has some competing, less healthy traditions (pizza day and cake day, for example), but overall Sterling has found that the biggest barrier to progress is that his co-workers are mostly active, happy people already. A nurse who came to the most recent health fair to perform screenings told Sterling that it was the healthiest company she’d ever seen.

So though it’s been easy to connect with most employees, Sterling’s goal for 2012 is to reach out to every single one of them. He recently started a meditation program, and attendance has grown from month to month. He’s considering targeting specific teams with fitness classes. And he hopes to lure in stragglers with monthly challenges.

The first one, in February, was called “Stand and Deliver.” “Any time the phone rings, you make a call, send an e-mail or get an e-mail, you stand up,” Sterling explains. If you manage to stick to the challenge for a whole day, you tell him and get entered for a chance to win gift cards at the end of the month. The more days you do it, the better your odds of winning.

Of course, if you work at the Motley Fool, it sounds as if you’ll already feel like a winner.

Why Wellness? Because We Care…

Wellness

Wellness

To help the world invest. Better.

The Motley Fool’s purpose, undeniably, places the interest of our members and followers at numero uno but who is going to look out for us Fools in Alexandria, VA?

That’s where I come in, the Wellness Fool.

Just a little background before I explain what the heck a Wellness Fool is – I previously worked for our Tech Department as a Quality Assurance Analyst for 3+ years but realized it wasn’t exactly my cup of (green) tea. My heart was with fitness and nutrition. After several meetings and proposals with the powers-that-be, the Fool offered me a position to help get every Fool on the path to Wellness.

What exactly is wellness you ask? The best definition I’ve ever come across and my humble translation follows:

Wellness is a “multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being”. – Charles B. Corbin, Arizona State University

Translation: Wellness is not defined by the extraneous actions you perform, but by the ease of your mundane, daily activities.

Here at the Fool, we try to offer a wide array of wellness benefits from boot-camp classes, to yoga, to meditation, to healthy snack fridges, to massages, etc. – all free or at minimal cost to our employees. You would think the primary goal in all of this would be to lower health care costs, reduce absenteeism/turnover, and to boost ROI. Although these are all amazing positive side effects, the goal from our executive team has always been to create happier and healthier Fools! At our last health fair, our bio-metric screening nurse claimed we were the healthiest company, collectively, she had ever screened for! Our employee turnover is already among the lowest in the industry, and I’ve heard on multiple occasions (shhh, don’t tell their bosses) that multiple Fools have come INTO WORK on their days off, just to attend some of the fitness classes! So what is it that I actually do? One of the best parts of this job is that there is no blueprint for the position. For the last year, my day-to-day activity has never been the same: I manage all the wellness benefits, initiatives, and relationships with our vendors; I lead the boot-camp classes every week; I work individually with many Fools who prefer having their own individual plans and check-in with them on a monthly basis; and I walk around the office making every Fool feel guilty on pizza and cake days. However, my most treasured accomplishment is this new sense of culture that has developed; it is not easy trying to get 200+ people on a path to wellness. But some of Fools that have been with me from Day 1 have begun self-managing, and that is always the goal of a personal trainer or wellness coach.

Give a Fool a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a Fool to fish, and you feed them tremendous amounts of omega 3s and DHA for a lifetime.

Looking to get going yourself in 2012? You don’t have enough time, right? I don’t have facts around me but I’m assuming the #1 excuse for avoiding exercise is not having enough time. Unless you eat, sleep, use the restroom, work, commute, spend time with family for 24 hours, you actually have time. Even if that time is 10-15 minutes because those 10-15 minutes is better than 0 minutes, right? Too tired after getting the kids ready for school, working a full day, making dinner, and getting the kids to bed? Guess what boosts your energy? Exercise! Eat your lunch at your desk, and go for a walk during your lunch instead. Set your alarm 15-20 minutes earlier, down a glass of water, and go hard for 15-20 minutes, 5 days a week, and I guarantee you’ll start seeing some changes; not only will you be energized for your day, you’ll get the session out of the way, will drop the guilt hanging over your head, AND see physical changes. Watch TV much? Get down on the ground and break a sweat while enjoying your favorite show. Have a dog? They need to be walked to tame their tempers so get moving with them! Bring the whole family on the walk as family. Walk time is a great bonding time. Preparation is key to eliminating wasted time: choose your workout clothes the night before and have them ready or, better yet, sleep in them and wake up ready. Park your car in the furthest spot possible, use the restroom on the other side of the building, take the stairs instead of the elevator – just keep moving and watch how your mood and energy change. The biggest hurdle is getting started, and since results breed results, once you get started and see some positive changes, you’ll be MAKING time to exercise.

A Gift You Don’t Want for the Holidays

Fool Fitness
Fool FitnessThe major weight gains, for most people, occur between Halloween and New Year’s. For Fools, we think of all the Halloween candy we have in the office when our kids come through to trick-or-treat. We have to consider the Thanksgiving feast we provide during our all-hands monthly meeting. And don’t even get me started about the desserts and booze at the Fool holiday party. Like you, most Fools start “letting themselves go” for the holidays because they know New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. Mix that with the fact that our bodies naturally preserve fat during winter months to stay warm and we’re outside less because of the cold, equals a recipe for weight gain.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can still enjoy all the holidays have to offer while keeping the weight and fat off, without the guilt!

Weight and fat gain is all about calories consumed vs. calories expended; if you know you will be indulging one evening, work that much harder in the gym that day. No time for exercise? (Yeah, right — that’s another blog post.) Enjoy some goodies in moderation by taking a smaller plate, or enjoy that buffet just once, or focus on socializing instead of just eating and eating. If you get started on an exercise plan before New Year’s hits, not only can you enjoy splurging every so often during the holidays, you’ll also be on a good track post-holiday season into the new year. Go ahead and enjoy the holidays guilt-free, as long as you do so in moderation while staying active.