During lockdown people became more aware of having a well organised and comfortable working environment in which to thrive and foster a greater sense of focus. Whilst ‘home comforts’ weren’t to everyone’s satisfaction, there were benefits to home working; the lack of commute, the flexibility to manage hours, the opportunity to walk the dog and exercise. It’s important that the momentum continues and employers find ways to promote exercise at work for the mental and physical wellbeing of their workforce.
In a survey conducted by UK office fit-out company Engage Workplace, 46% said they were more productive at home during lockdown, 60% said they always made time for lunch away from their desk and 10% said they use their lunch break to take a walk or go for a run.
According to a report from the British Medical Journal, online search metrics for exercise surged immediately following the lockdown. Specific searches targeting the topic ‘high-intensity interval training’ and ‘home-based exercise’ were at an all-time high since records began in 2004. In fact, the increase in ‘exercise’ was so large that it surpassed ‘television show’ for the first 2 weeks following the lockdown in the UK.
Exercise in the office isn’t a new idea. But regular physical activity has such positive impacts for both employees and employers and the need for it has certainly been highlighted as a result of recent events.
There is also evidence suggesting that exercise during regular work hours may boost performance. Leeds Metropolitan University completed a study, which examined the influence of daytime exercise among office workers with access to a company gym. 200 employees at a variety of companies self-reported their performance on a daily basis. They then examined fluctuations within individual employees, comparing their output on days when they exercised to days when they didn’t. On days when employees visited the gym, their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues. Just as important: They went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.
So how and why can you promote physical activity at work to reap the benefits for your business?
To relieve stress
Stress has an enormous impact on the body but the effects are not always obvious. Employees can have trouble sleeping, focusing, making rational decisions and controlling their emotions. Stress is often a catalyst to other problems, self medication, excessive drinking, over-eating or unhealthily and smoking. Exercise helps improve mental health by providing calm and clarity to better handle stress. Science tells us that the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, reduces when endorphins (our happy hormones) increase.
Expending energy creates energy – strange but true. Even though energy levels may dip after high intensity training, they will come back up and leave you with even more energy. This is because it takes a little time for your body to produce the mitochondria (the powerhouses inside our cells) it needs. Not only does exercise increase energy but it also helps employees to sleep better, therefore waking more refreshed and ready for the day.
Whilst it might be a tricky subject matter when it comes to your employees, weight management is a hot topic for all of us. The human costs of obesity are well known. Being overweight significantly increases the risk of devastating, but largely preventable diseases including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease, stroke and related mental health conditions. Employees with good weight management are less likely to take sick days, to suffer with ills in the workplace, and will have better energy levels to contribute effectively.
A Harvard study showed the benefits of exercise aren’t just physical. It boosts mental abilities like enhanced creativity, quicker learning, a sharper memory and improved concentration. As the Leeds Metropolitan University study found, exercising during working hours can also pump up work performance.
Building a team
Encouraging colleagues to connect outside the office fosters healthy personal and professional relationships. If you have ability to give employees a gym then that’s a great place for them to let off steam together – or even introduce some healthy competition. Working out with other people can also help hold employees accountable to each other for workouts. Socialising makes exercise more fun, which improves the chances that you’ll keep doing it. It’s also a lot harder to back out on a friend or a trainer than to persuade yourself that missing one couldn’t hurt!
Other tips to promote physical activity at work include introducing flexible working hours to allow for longer lunch breaks in which to walk or run, corporate gym memberships, incentivised cycle to work schemes, encouraging lunchtime exercise clubs, introducing walk and talk meetings or areas assigned to standing desks.
How will you be fostering physical activity in your workplace – I’d love to know! Connect with me on LinkedIn here.
Image Credit: Harry Gillen, Unsplash