Why Some Employers Are Paying Their Employees to Exercise

This article written by Katie MacAskill was originally published on 31 July 2019 on The Sedentary Behaviour Research Network (SBRN) website.

Exercising has been proven over and over again to benefit physical and mental health. In the context of the workplace, countless researchers have seen improvements in employee time management, productivity, focus, personability and more from exercise interventions. As part of their “Power of the Hour” series, a BBC article was published earlier this year on exercise breaks during the workday. The article references a variety of professionals, employers and employees to discuss the values of exercise breaks, noting that some offices even pay their employees to exercise.

In recent years, an increasing number of offices are finding and setting up headquarters with a gym or workout studio available in the building. Employees in such offices who make use of these facilities are more productive and tend to leave the office more satisfied with their performance at the end of the day; not to mention the regular benefits that physical activity has on health including immediate cognitive boosts.

Setting up big tables and cafes as work spaces in view of treadmills/ellipticals or gym spaces is a new idea companies are using to lure workers to exercise. This idea is getting so popular that companies are even setting up their main office in such spaces.

The BBC article also interviews and references a number of people who have developed these types of work spaces and swear by them. A major trend among these testimonials is that a culture of exercise and health is crucial to developing an active workplace, and a healthy, happy office and much more important than having access to fancy equipment and state-of-the-art workout studios. Developing this kind of environment could be as simple as having walking meetings or playing weekly road hockey games at lunch, or even organizing active team building events or forming a rec-league basketball team outside of work.

An article in the Globe and Mail discussed the importance of having flexible work hours to accommodate exercise breaks, noting that flexible workdays or the ability to work remotely empowers employees and allows them to incorporate short exercise breaks every few hours – even if it’s just walking around the block.

Another interesting theme across both the BBC and the Globe and Mail articles is that offices who allow for flexible work days and exercise breaks tend to see employees taking fewer sick days. By developing healthy habits not only are workers less prone to getting sick but are happier and more motivated – making them more likely to be excited to come into work on any day. Aside from personal benefits, this is also of interest to society from a financial perspective – the CBC noted that in 2012 the direct cost of sedentary behaviour in Canada was $2.4 billion per year not to mention loss of personal and financial productivity resulting from poor health (indirect costs) associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Given the prevalence of sedentary behaviour and all of the positive reviews and research findings outlined above, this shift towards the commonality of active work environments seems feasible and it can’t come soon enough.

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