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Leadership and Responsibility in the Wellness Arena

Since the pandemic began, many of us have seen our health habits change and, to some extent, deteriorate.  Spending more time in front a computer combined with a stressful time, have led to less activity and weight gain. I have fallen victim to that also.  Over the past couple weeks, I’ve tried to get on the wellness wagon again and as a result have an interesting experience to share.

Along with a healthier diet, I decided to add a structured workout class to my regimen. On the recommendation of a fitness trainer, I chose to attend a class at a popular national chain.  I didn’t know what to expect, but when I arrived, I completed the mandatory forms and was welcomed and briefed by the staff, all of whom were millennial-aged women.  The chain fitness club I went to offers an intense mostly cardo-based workout.  Participants cycle between different types of exercise, cardio and weight-based, for an hour.  The class is led by an instructor who moves between exercise areas directing and correcting participants in a friendly manner.

Participants are required to wear a proprietary fitness band, which after the first free class must be purchased by members in addition to the subscription package one purchases.  The band monitors heart rate and calories burned and puts your stats on a TV screen during the workout so you can monitor your progress. 

I was surprised to find the class populated mostly by people age 30 and above and few of them on outward appearance looked like fitness junkies rippling with muscles that are sometimes common at large gyms.  That made me more comfortable being there.
Before I go into some of the downsides of what I saw, I want to praise the staff.  They were friendly, listened to me, and did a great job of social distancing, checking temperatures, and cleaning equipment after each use. They were enthusiastic and well trained, and the facility and equipment were well maintained.

My first surprise came when the class began and the music was turned up to between 100 -110 decibels.  Being in a Human Factors Department, I am aware of loudness levels and safety concerns associated with noise. A simple noise chart will tell you that at 100 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a symphony, the safe level of daily exposure without earplugs is 15 minutes.  At 110 decibels, which is the equivalent of listening to a chainsaw or drumline in close proximity, the safe level of daily exposure without earplugs is less than 4 minutes.  After the daily exposure limit is reached, permanent damage can be done to an individual’s hearing.  As a person who recently experienced sudden hearing loss, I am now acutely aware of sound and the effect is can have on health. Often damage may not even show up immediately, and like me, only years later do you experience the full effect of lifetime noise exposure.

I finished the class and left with my ears ringing; and they continued to ring for many hours after the class ended.  At no time in any of my orientation or in the documents I signed waiving liability, did it mention that I would be subjected to loud music at a decibel level that could lead to permanent hearing loss.  I also wonder if any of the instructors, who may work several hours a day in that environment were educated by the company about their risk.  In my one-hour class, I saw no instructor or participant wearing earplugs. (Caveat: the excruciating loudness may have been particular to my location, but I highly doubt it)

My second surprise was when I was told that I must purchase the special armband if I wanted to do more classes.  Like many people, I already wear a fitness device that monitors the very same things the proprietary fitness band does.  I asked if I could just wear my own band and if it synced with their displays. The answer was ‘no’.  Each class costs about $20 if you purchase a subscription of ten classes paid up front, and the band is another $100, so the cost per class rises to $30 each, a cost that seems prohibitive to most people.

How does this tie to leadership?  My whole experience got me thinking about the responsibility of leaders in these fitness companies (the CEO’s, Science Officers, Doctors and CTO’s) and their responsibility to the health of their members.  It seems as though the whole point of the company is to make people healthier, however they knowingly expose their members and their employees to an environment in which serious auditory damage will be done.  The fitness leaders in these companies can’t be unaware of this, and yet I was never made aware of this fact.  In speaking to the instructor afterwards, she told me I could wear earplugs, which I would do in the future, but why is there the need to wear earplugs at all, when the simple solution and one that is safe for everyone is to turn down the volume.  It seems ironic that a fitness company whose business is health, isn’t even acknowledging the health risk to which they expose their employees and clients. Don’t the leaders of companies have an ethical obligation to maintain safety in their enterprise and if they don’t, will a simple liability waiver, which doesn’t seem to include hearing, protect them?  Should it?

My second link to leadership involves inclusion. Whom do companies serve and how do we tell? The cost of participation in this fitness enterprise, with the surprise addition of the band purchase (raising the cost of participation by 50%) is beyond the means of most people of moderate income.  It’s well-documented that SES is correlated with race and health.  From the objective cost of the experience, it can only be concluded that the leaders of this company cater to an affluent and most white clientele.  In my class, there was no diversity in participants or staff.  Ultimately, this was a choice made by leadership, and I’m sure one made based on P&L statements, however if a fitness company is truly concerned about health, shouldn’t it be concerned about everyone’s health?  And frankly, I’m tired of continuing to find segregation in places where there shouldn’t be any.  On the company website, I see people of color, I see talk of how the stress of the pandemic and “issues of race inequality, which are leading to riots and protests” are affecting us all (is that a dog whistle or what?) and I see words like health and safety prominently featured.  I wonder – health and safety for whom? I want leaders in all companies to care about diversity, equity and inclusion and be willing to look at new business models in which DEI is a consideration, rather than something to which they pretend to be blind.
Am I expecting too much from the leaders of one fitness company?  I don’t think so.  It’s time for change and for true leaders to emerge who care for the well-being of their employees and clients, and at the same time address the ways in which their operations may negatively impact diversity and inclusion.  It’s time!

Christina M. Frederick
SPIM President-Elect

Look for upcoming dates!


Topics to Include:

Civil Discourse in Uncivil Times
Presented by: Robert Boatright, Clark University

New Perspectives on the Black Experience
Presented by: Laura Morgan-Roberts, University of Virginia

Social Media and Leadership 
Presented by: Jamie Notter, Human Workplaces Inc.


Hello SPIMers,

I am pleased to announce expanded membership categories and fee variability for SPIM.  Thank you to Jodi Dooling-Litfin for helping me research various options for membership in the psychology field and to Membership Committee for reviewing our recommendations.  Thank you to the Board of Directors for carefully considering these recommendations and creating a broader way others may join the relevant, impactful mission of SPIM to unite psychologists committed to creating extraordinary organizations!  Lastly, thank you to Liz Woodward for cleaning up the website language and creating an easy membership chart for people to consider.

Our new membership categories:
  • Full Member
  • Early Career Member
  • Associate Member
  • Affiliate Member
  • Student Member

Please see our website:  

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Please encourage those in your network to consider the benefits of joining SPIM.  Feel free to give my contact information ( or 303-916-6232) and I am happy to discuss with potential candidates.  

Thanks again to all who assisted in these improvement efforts for SPIM.
Sarah Early
Membership Committee Chair

If you are a SPIM member and have publications that you would like to share with the SPIM community, please submit to by the 20th of each month! 
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