Back in 1985 Teresa Michael had completed her master’s degree in exercise science with a focus on health, physical education and recreation at Southern Illinois University. She was pursuing her PhD when a classmate approached her regarding a fitness job at AT&T in Cincinnati. Michael took the attitude that at worst the interview would be a good experience.
It clearly was. She was hired and, more than three decades later, is still with AT&T, as a HealthFitness Contract Manager based in Highlands Ranch, CO.
“I did the interview and they called me with a job offer two hours later,” she recalls. “I said to myself ‘Oh my gosh; what have I done!’ It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
From the ground floor to the mountains
She entered the ground floor of AT&T’s robust health promotion program. At the time U.S. regulatory agencies, having determined AT&T a monopoly, divided it into a series of individual companies. The AT&T medical director recognized the impact this would have on the workforce and formed the Total Life Concept (TLC) program to help employees.
The TLC program consisted of 10 classes, covering a range of topics including exercise, cholesterol, weight management and smoking cessation. Employees were encouraged to attend on company time. AT&T soon discovered that for every $1 spent on the TLC program, they saved $3 in health care costs.
Michael helped implement the TLC program at AT&T’s Cincinnati facility, which, in addition to offering the classes, provided employees with exercise clothes and towels. “It was considered pretty out there for its time,” she says.
Following two years in Cincinnati, Michael was promoted to running an AT&T fitness center in Chicago. Thanks to her effectiveness and leadership, she was presented with a series of opportunities to run other centers throughout the country. She ultimately chose Highlands Ranch, located 12 miles south of Denver, where she works to this day.
A new job description every day
Today Michael and her colleague Danielle Nicholson jointly manage 20 full-and part-time employees dispersed at 15 AT&T fitness centers throughout the country. “It’s amazing to me what a part-time staff is capable of, given the right amount of training and support,” she says. “Supporting them to the best of my ability means my job description pretty much changes every day.”
Michael explains how, given a relatively small staff with multiple locations, she needs to get creative and stretch resources. For example, a member of her Atlanta team also works at another area AT&T fitness center.
Given that AT&T has acquired companies and gone through several permutations, Michael and her colleagues work with a diverse employee population in terms of age, experience and fitness level. She in turn provides her team turnkey programs so that especially part-time staff can quickly get up to speed. Even then, she explains that it all comes down to assembling the best team to successfully execute. “We’ve got some great people; some who have been with us for 15 or 20 years,” she says. “It’s phenomenal what they can get done.”
Maintaining centers of excellence
Michael recalls being part of a committee several years back that developed a “Centers of Excellence” document that still guides her team’s activity. The philosophy behind AT&T’s Centers of Excellence concept is to provide a consistent and cohesive employee experience, regardless of the fitness center utilized. “We have centers from New Jersey, to California, and points in between,” she explains. “For that employee who is based in New Jersey but might travel to California for work, we want them to see the same things and be treated the same way.”
In addition to listing values such as customer service and having fun, the Centers of Excellence document also tracks testimonials that the staff collects. “It’s amazing what the staff has helped employees achieve throughout the years in terms of reaching various health goals.”
It’s her team’s collective energy and passion that continues to inspire Teresa Michael. “I love my job so right off the bat that makes it easy to come to work each day,” she says. “Seeing my team make differences in participants’ lives and make tremendous strides in their own careers is very gratifying.”
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