Fit Companies: Spotlight on Berklee

Friendly competition got Berklee walking — 25,000 miles, to be exact.



Berklee’s campus. Photo by Jamie Ducharme

In a fit city like Boston, it’s no surprise that businesses offer wellness programs that include far more than a discounted gym membership. In this series, we’ll profile Boston-area companies that go above and beyond to keep employees healthy.

Name: Berklee College of Music

Location: Boston, Mass.

Number of employees: 1,200

How Berklee stays well: On-campus events that bring out community and competitive spirit simultaneously.

When Phil Lima, Berklee’s director of employee benefits, took a hard look at the expenditures paid by the school’s insurance company, Tufts Health Plan, he saw a simple solution: move more.

“We’re not unlike most Americans in that our health insurance company is paying for expenses, for a lot of us, that can be associated with inactivity, stress, excess weight, all those kinds of things,” Lima explains. “We didn’t want to challenge anyone to go out and run the marathon or anything like that. We thought, let’s just get up and move. Let’s walk.”

And with that simple thought, the Berklee walking challenge was born. Lima — in partnership with Sue Glover, who works as the Healthy You health and wellness manager for the Boston Consortium For Higher Education — used a donation of 150 Fitbits from Tufts Health Plan to encourage Berklee’s employees to get out and walk, and track their steps in the process. Over the course of the six-week program, which ended last month, the 150 participants walked the circumference of the globe — 25,000 miles.

“The goal was to get sedentary people to move more, but it’s been very, very helpful even to those who are already heavy exercisers, because they said to me, ‘I really didn’t realize how much I wasn’t walking,'” Glover says. “It creates a very kind of friendly competition where people can see each other’s steps when they log into the group site, they get support from one another, they’ll talk about nutrition.”

Perhaps more importantly, Glover says, programs like the walking challenge make employees happy to come to work. “All kinds of positives spring from it, but the biggest positive, to me, is the employer loyalty and the feeling that your employer cares about you,” she notes. “I’ve had so many people tell me that in walking to work and taking breaks during the day, they felt so much more refreshed, they felt more creative, they were less stressed, and they felt that Berklee as the employer was making them not feel guilty about going for a walk at lunch.”

Moreover, the spirit of the walking challenge has spread across the institution, giving rise to other health and fitness initiatives such as an on-campus Weight Watchers group, a running and walking group called BEFAST, and a “couch potato to 5K” training program.

Although the walking challenge only included 150 employees, Lima says it bodes well for the future of wellness at Berklee, which will include programs that focus on weight loss, physical activity, and financial wellness. “The fact is, we all spend a tremendous amount of our time at our jobs,” Lima says. “We feel, as an employer, that we have a responsibility to [ensure] that the effect of our employees’ work and their time with us and their commitment to us, that the effect of that on them as people is positive.”


Walking club participants. Photo provided