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Xanterra motivates Death Valley employees to be healthy

Oftentimes after people leave high school or college they find themselves less active and gaining weight because they have no time to exercise. Family and work usually zap the energy to do anything else.

What if you worked for a company that promoted and motivated all of its employees to be healthy and fit? It sounds too good to be true — right?

Xanterra Parks and Resorts in the United States is the largest operator of park-based hotels, restaurants and stores, with operations in Death Valley. The company recognizes the need for healthy employees. Regional General Manager for Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Death Valley, Richard Jones, said his company introduced some core values for the property over a year ago, which has spread throughout the organization. One of those values is health and balance.

“Once those core values were rolled out, and it was incumbent on the property to instill those core values, what our organization did was assigned challenge masters to each property. We work with “America on the Move” to help with the health and balance,” Jones said.

According to Jones, one of the goals is to encourage Xanterra employees to get into the parks and be active and to really enrich their lives through exercise and experiencing the outdoors.

“We are associated with beautiful places and we want to make sure that our employees don’t just work and go home to their cabin and not truly experience the world they are working in. We want to try to enrich their lives through exercise. We literally have thousands of employees in remote areas of our national parks,” he explained.

Phyllis Nefsky, a Xanterra sales manager, was tasked by Jones to find interesting challenges. Since July 2013, Xanterra Death Valley has completed three of them. These challenges are in accordance with AOM research which says just little changes in a person’s life can make a difference. Each challenge lasts about a month. She said any longer and it’s hard to keep people motivated.

For the challenges, Nefsky said almost anything can be converted into steps. It could be mowing the lawn or working around the house, or even swimming or playing tennis.

“You either walk with the pedometer or you do an activity and you log it, depending on the number of minutes you do.

“The real challenge is the summer when no one wants to be outside,” she said.

The second challenge involved Thanksgiving and turkey.

“It is amazing how much you walk in the job. So, for Thanksgiving we came up with the “Turkey vs Wine Challenge.” We figured out how many calories there are in a turkey or ham. We got 11,000 calories and then we converted that into steps, which is 246,000 steps,” Nefsky explained.

Eleven Xanterra employees walked enough for seven turkeys.

“For every turkey walked we donated a turkey to a charity, which was the Death Valley Natural History Association. they are a nonprofit organization promoting the history of Death Valley. We gave them the monetary value of seven turkeys. This got our employees excited for the next challenge, so we had 30 new volunteers for the next challenge,” Nefsky said excitedly.

Xanterra just recently completed their third challenge during February in honor of Valentine’s Day. Nefsky figured the calories in five pounds of chocolate. Working them off was 336,000 steps.

The 30 employees did the equivalent of $760 worth of chocolates and they decided to donate the money to the local school.

“We decided to give the school children a small box of chocolate as a treat and the rest went as a credit to eat breakfast at the inn. There are only four children in the school in Death Valley. It was exciting for them to eat at the Inn at Furnace Creek,” Nefsky said.

Xanterra is working on another holiday challenge for Easter. The challenges center on the holidays because this seems to be where people gain the most weight.

Nefsky explained that the challenges have motivated her to actually get back to exercising before work, which she said she had stopped doing.

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