We have all heard it before: exercise is a key part of an individual’s overall well-being. However, a multitude of studies in recent years suggest that employee exercise may be just as critical to the health of your organization. While a comprehensive, strategically
designed employee exercise program is not cheap, the results can be well worth it.
Leaders of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a perennial blue-chip company in the healthcare industry, estimate that its wellness programs were able to save the company ~$250M over the course of a decade in the early 2000’s, returning $2.71 for every $1 spent.1 These staggering figures do not even paint the whole picture. In developing the analysis, the J&J team only looked at healthcare cost savings. No credit was given to some of the less tangible benefits that include: improved concentration, sharper memory, faster learning, prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity, and lower stress.2
It is clear that getting employees into a regular exercise routine is valuable. What is less transparent is how to design a program that will maximize both adoption and results. A number of studies have been digging into this question, and the results, listed below, are not what you would expect.
- Allow Employees to Exercise During Regular Work Hours – A Leeds Metropolitan University study examined the impact of day-time gym usage among 200 individuals across various industries.2 The results showed that on days where employees used the gym while at work (vs. both after work or not at all), they reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with colleagues.
- Create a Culture of “Constant Movement” – Exercising once a day for 30 minutes is not healthy. Exercise needs to occur throughout the course of a day. A 2012 analysis looked at 18 different studies and found that those sitting for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease. More importantly, it found that temporary vigorous exercise was not enough to compensate for prolonged sitting.3 Taking one minute out of every 45 for push-ups, jumping jacks, squats, etc. can make a tremendous difference in overall outcomes.
- Encourage Participation in “Small Team” Sports – It is common knowledge that exercising is more difficult as an individual. That being said, not all group activities are created equal. People are far more likely to stick to their routine if others are depending upon them, and will suffer if they do not participate. While a person may be missed if they do not show up to a weekly running club, the person that does not show up for their doubles tennis match has effectively ruined the game.
These may not be the most conventional recommendations for a workplace wellness program to adopt, but the science and research is there to suggest that they will have a tremendous impact on the health of both your employees and overall organization. How many other enterprise-wide investments is your organization considering right now that offer a 171% return?
Ryan Guest is a manager at RAS & Associates. He brings 10 years of consulting and industry experience solving complex challenges in corporate strategy, finance, and operational process optimization to the firm. In addition, he is an avid marathon and ultramarathon runner who has completed races up to 100 miles.