Workplace Wellness: Exercise Initiatives

One of the best ways to improve the overall health and well-being of your employees is to introduce different opportunities to exercise into the workplace. As covered in the last blog, regular exercise provides many benefits including health improvement, combating diseases and elevating mood and energy.  Its perhaps one of life’s most underrated natural motivators. An employee with a healthy body and healthy mind will take less sick days, be more productive and radiate an ambiance of positive energy around the workplace.

A regular exercise routine clearly brings great benefits, however recent studies have shown that around 80% of Americans don’t hit recommended exercise levels.  Some of the most common excuses for failing to exercise center around convenience. People don’t have the time, or don’t live close to the facilities, or are tired after a long working day.  By weaving some type of culture of exercise into the fabric of your company you can offset many of these excuses and start the ball rolling towards healthier, happier and more energized employees

There are a variety of initiatives you can implements to encourage employees to exercise during the workday and at home.  These initiatives can vary from a gentle nudge in the right direction, to full-on throwing employees into a regime. Initiatives that aim to seriously change people’s habits will require far more investment and planning but the rewards will potentially be much higher.

The nudge…

There are many small changes you can make in the workplace to encourage employees to be more active.  Installing bike racks in convenient, accessible locations may encourage individuals to cycle into work.  Sponsoring a “bike to work” day and rewarding employees who participate will further promote your cause and encourage workers to ditch the car.  Posting motivational signs near elevators may encourage more employees to start taking the stairs.  Small changes such as these require minimal investment but may start laying the foundation of a healthier workplace.

The push…

If you feel as though you want to implement more obvious change, you may have to push employees a little bit harder towards a healthier lifestyle. Creating real opportunities for exercise within the workplace may be enough of an incentive to promote real change. Establishing a recreational company sports team or a walking group could make exercise more fun and bring employees closer together.  There is often no better place for team-bonding than on the sports field.  Providing fitness equipment within the workplace or alternatively offering a discount to the local gym may further motivate employees to adopt some type of fitness regime. If funds and space allow, a walking trail near the office could provide a convenient space for workers to exercise during their lunch-break. Standing desks within the workplace could offer a welcome alternative to eight hours of sitting down starting at a screen.

The shove...

As the old adage goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  Perhaps your employees are particularly resistant to change and no matter how many carrots you dangle in front of their face they continue to reach for the cake. Instead of allowing the exercise bike to rust and the walking path to become overgrown with weeds, there may be another way to sew exercise into your culture.  If you make it a regular part of your working day as opposed to an optional extra-curricular activity then not only are you eliminating a degree of choice but also increasing its appeal as suddenly employees are getting paid to do it.

Fun group exercises in the morning could be a fantastic way of increasing activity levels in the workplace and setting employees up for the working day ahead.  If you are concerned about how this will affect productivity then consider a typical Monday morning in the office. Most of us spend half an hour staring blankly at a computer screen, inhaling caffeine as we try to get our brains into gear. Twenty minutes of light exercise would serve to focus employees, release feel good hormones and blow away the morning blues.  

Another way of implementing exercise into the working day is to encourage walking meetings as much as possible.  Not only will a brisk daily walk help to make employees healthier but the freeing environment may actually promote healthy discourse. Running regular programs or competitions to encourage activity, such as a pedometer walking challenge or a weight loss competition could be another fantastic motivator for workers.  Appealing to employees’ competitive sides could uncover surprising results. Consider providing incentives for participation in physical activity and weight management or maintenance activities to further increase their appeal.

When designing wellness programs, employers must consider their legal obligations to disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, an employer must generally provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate in the program and earn whatever incentives the employer offers.


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