Fernando Vescio has been promoting fitness and wellness in the workplace for over 30 years. In an earlier role in human resources at Ontario Hydro, Lakeview Generating Station, he converted a couple of trailers into a fitness centre to promote the BackFIT Program aimed at workers who were at risk of suffering lower back injuries. Pre-shift Stretch Breaks were also introduced to reduce the incidence of repetitive strain injuries. The program achieved immediate positive results in less sick leave usage and workers compensation claims by this targeted group of workers.
When Fernando left Hydro (then Ontario Power Generation), he moved to SmartCentres (currently SmartReit), as S.V.P. HR and Corporate Services. In this rapidly growing company Fernando saw a need for a workplace wellness program. Long hours and a fast-paced work environment were showing signs of stress on their Associates. Fernando once again reached out to Tri Fit to initiate a wellness program for their 400 + employees across Canada with 325 based at their headquarters in Vaughan. The program began on a small scale with a focus on stretch breaks, nutrition education and fitness.
Fernando is personally committed to fitness and sport and believes it helps him manage stress and stay agile both at work and on the soccer field. Formerly a competitive soccer player, Fernando still plays recreational soccer. He has also coached soccer for 25 years at the provincial level including coaching his three daughters, now 28, 23 and 16, who all advanced to elite status. At one time Fernando was playing on a co-ed team with his entire family including his wife, who took up the sport in her late 30’s.
Fernando, also a long time runner, prides himself on running a 43 minute 10 km when he was 50. Although some of Fernando’s jobs had him travelling, he always made sure to bring his running gear for early morning runs through places like the Vancouver Sea Wall and Manhattan’s Central Park. While competitive in nature, as he gets older, he realizes that he needs to be more in tune with what his body can handle. With a persistent Achilles injury he has backed off his running and found a new passion; road biking.
At SmartReit Fernando is pleased to report that wellness is “Alive and Well” with over 80% of the Associates involved in some aspect of the program including Yoga, Tai Chi and stretch breaks. “It is starting to become a part of our culture”, reports Vescio.
SmartReit recently increased professional on-site support by Tri Fit from one to two days per week. They have incorporated healthy vending machines and several programs such as the Wacky Olympics and Health Fair have become annual events. They also held competitive (but fun) soccer games with up to 12 teams participating (with a rule that there must be at least 2 women per team), and have added table tennis to foster healthy competition and team building. Fernando feels strongly that SmartReit’s commitment to wellness has enhanced recruitment, retention and employee engagement.
Fernando’s advice to others embarking on the wellness journey … “be clever about your investment; it doesn’t take a ton of money, and survey employees annually to ensure you understand what is important to them”. Fernando also believes, “it needs to be integrated right into the work day so it is easy for everyone to participate”.
He confesses that some people might think he is compulsive about staying in shape but for Vescio, “that’s OK. I want to inspire others to enjoy the benefits of fitness”.