Is Your Office Out of Shape?

Standing desk

Soon winter will be here, and many will be less active. The good news is your small business can help your employees be (and stay) healthy through exercise and wholesome food choices. Figure out what you can do now and then take action — it’s important for your company’s well-being that your employees are fit in mind and body.

“Working out lowers your chances of getting sick, which equals less sick days being used by employees,” says Dallas personal trainer Shane Allen.

Because Sept. 24 and Sept. 28 are Family Health & Fitness Day and National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, respectively, we asked professionals in healthcare, fitness and wellness about their favorite ways small-business owners can encourage their employees to stay fit.

Ask employees for input

Odds are, your workplace isn’t equipped with a custom-built gym. Yet it’s just as important for employees of small businesses to have the means to not only exercise during the day but to cultivate a healthy mind, too.

Sean Eldridge is co-founder and CEO of Boston-based Gain Life, which sells health and wellness programs to small businesses. He says that before you implement a wellness program, you should gauge the health level and needs of your workers, and take those into account.

“You can see if your employees are overweight or obese, whether or not they smoke on breaks,” he says. “Ask them whether they'd like a bike rack to use for commuting, or if they’d like healthier food options made available, or a subsidized smoking-cessation program.”

You may have heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking.” There’s evidence that sitting for long periods of time can lead to many health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular issues and type 2 diabetes. Some employers are investing in stand-up desks to discourage sedentary lifestyles among employees and reduce the 5 hours, 41 minutes the average worker spends sitting at work every day.1

British Columbia–based chiropractor Dr. Jason Hare notes that an effective wellness program doesn’t have to cost much, if anything at all. “A great place to start is a lunch-and-learn program,” Hare says. Look for a local yoga instructor or massage therapist to conduct a weekly lunchtime workshop. They may agree to charge only a few dollars per employee in order to build their client base.

Offer incentives

Many exercise programs have a greater chance of success if there’s a reward dangled in front of the participants. Los Angeles strength and conditioning coach Mike Donavanik recently helped a client coordinate a corporate wellness challenge consisting of a 10-week weight-loss contest. The winning team and winning individuals each won a cash prize.

“It helped foster a sense of community and got most of the participants engaged,” Donavanik says. “Plus, it had a lighthearted, good energy to it.”

No gimmicks

The sky’s the limit when it comes to workplace fitness and wellness challenges. But Brad Cooper, CEO of Littleton, Colorado–based US Corporate Wellness, cautions that the best challenges are based on research, not on gimmicks.

“A basic ‘drink more water’ challenge might sound great, since most people would benefit from more water intake,” Cooper says. “However, employees might get competitive and go to unhealthy extremes in order to win. Create your contests so that the outcome promotes positive health benefits, not just a winning team.”

A healthy mind

Herb Carver, a Louisiana business coach and CEO of Point Above Consulting, points out that cultivating mental wellness can be just as easy as encouraging physical fitness — and it can pay many of the same dividends.

“A company can go on a mindfulness and meditation retreat or even hire a mindfulness coach to guide them through everyday stresses,” Carver says. “Encouraging your company and its employees to be healthy and active will only increase productivity, company morale and employee loyalty.”

Other ideas

While you might not have the means to build a full-size gym or provide organic meals every day, these are some inexpensive and fun ways to promote healthy living at your workplace:

  • Use a spare space as a makeshift worksite gym. “Simple fixtures such as a rail and step can be used to assist with stretching and bodyweight movements — lunges, squats and incline push-ups, for instance,” says Rina Ward, a Sydney, Australia, exercise physiologist.
  • Arrange a group discount that pays for employees’ participation in a local 5K or other community fitness event. Many health clubs also offer corporate discounts.
  • Sponsor a plot at a nearby community garden. “This can promote activity by encouraging physical work in the garden as well as healthy eating by letting employees eat what they grow,” says Alan Kohll, founder and president of Omaha, Nebraska–based TotalWellness.
  • Be creative about encouraging activity during work hours. If a meeting involves mostly talking, bring the discussion outdoors while the group walks around the block a few times. You can even schedule walks for one-on-one meetings with your employees — whether your goal is to get a project update or aid in someone’s career development.

Give and take

When you do implement a program, accept that it will mean some concessions from you, the boss: It might cost money, and it might mean that workers spend a few extra minutes away from their posts during a lunchtime workout or when they’re biking to the office.

In return, personal trainer Shane Allen points out, facilitating exercise time for employees can end up saving your business money in the form of lowered absenteeism and reduced healthcare costs. “Some insurance companies will even provide incentives and lower rates to businesses with physical fitness programs,” he says.

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1Stromberg, Joseph. “Five Health Benefits of Standing Desks,” March 26, 2014.

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