The Motley Fool might be the healthiest workplace in Washington


Ben Sterling in the offices of the Motley Fool in Alexandria, where his job title is the Wellness Fool. Among his responsibilities: helping employees develop personal fitness plans, organizing exercise activities and stocking the refrigerators with healthy food. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The WASHINGTON POST)
Vicky Hallett
Fit editor, Express March 6, 2012

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.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express. View Archive

“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 of Pirate’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.

Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.
Follow @postmisfits on Twitter.

Nominate your office

Hallett profiled the Motley Fool because its employees they told her they had the healthiest workplace in Washington. Can yours top what Motley Fool is doing? E-mail vicky.hallett@wpost.com or leave a comment below.

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