Many people today lead inactive lifestyles, and the rates of obesity have been increasing for years. Many chronic conditions can result from or be exacerbated by a lack of physical activity—which means that individuals and employers alike may suffer.
Adding physical activity to the day—even in small increments—can help. Better health can mean fewer absences from work due to fewer illnesses or injuries. Being in better health can reduce healthcare-related costs, as well (for both individuals and employers).
More Reasons Why Employers May Want to Encourage Physical Activity
Beyond reduced healthcare costs and reduced absences, there are more reasons employers may want to encourage employees to be more active. Here are a few:
- It shows the employees the employer is invested in their well-being.
- It may allow employees to stay on the job longer if they don’t end up with chronic illnesses that could be avoided.
- Physical activity can reduce stress, which can make for a better working environment for everyone if employee stress levels are better managed.
- Physical activity can have a positive impact on mental well-being. It can help employees be more resilient and manage their mental health better.
How Employers Can Have an Impact on Employee Activity Levels
There are plenty of actions employers can take to directly or indirectly influence employee activity levels. Most of these are meant to create an environment that allows employees to be active rather than pushing them to do so.
Here are some examples:
- Implement an employee wellness program.
- Ensure the work culture supports work/life balance, which can be critical in giving employees the time for physical activities.
- Offer discounted or free memberships to local fitness facilities, classes, or any physical activity in the area.
- Sponsor employee sports teams in local leagues. Or, sponsor an employee team in charity events that have a physical component, like fundraising walks or runs.
- Offer desk and chair variations, such as standing desks or treadmill desks, for employees who wish to use them.
- Provide space on-site for physical activity. This could be a fitness center, a walking track around the facility, etc. Or, it could mean dedicating an available space to become a space for fitness and bringing in class instructors and/or equipment.
- Provide spaces for employees to freshen up (i.e., locker rooms and showers) at the workplace, which removes a barrier to working out before work or during lunch.
- Provide secure spaces for employees to store things like bicycles or workout gear.
- Allow employees to sign up (voluntarily) for activity prompts—which can be set up by either the employer or a third party.
- Bring in speakers related to fitness, and allow employees to attend their presentations during work hours. If you do this, be sure to take appropriate steps so that it truly is practical for employees to attend.
- Offer free information for employees regarding physical fitness and other activity options in the area.
- Encourage employees to take their breaks—breaks are a great time for activity, and employees should know they can take breaks as needed. Consider encouraging employees to get away from their work space during breaks, too. Even something as simple as offering a nice break room can encourage employees to get up and get away from their work spaces more often.
A Few Caveats
If you’re going to do this, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If implementing an employee wellness program, be sure it meets the guidelines established in the Affordable Care Act.
- Be sure not to communicate about these things in any way that could be perceived as shaming employees. Don’t communicate in a way that appears to be criticism rather than encouragement. Don’t single out employees, ever.
- Be careful not to be too pushy, and don’t make the activities mandatory. Doing so may risk alienating an employee who cannot participate, thus making it discriminatory. (Remember, you may not have previously known about an employee’s limitations.)
Remember, every incremental change can help. While any one of these items taken individually may not impact the entire workforce, implementing several of them can have a positive impact over time.