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Should HR care about staff fitness? These 5 companies do

One company is paying its staff to cycle to work. Other businesses are also getting innovative around fitness and wellbeing.

Make Collective, a creative and advertising business in Christchurch, has taken the fitness of its employees into its own hands. It is offering $5 to any staff member willing to leave the car at home and cycle to work instead. If they keep up the habit for a year the company will double the incentive to $10.

Tim Chesney who runs Make Collective told Stuff: “My gut instinct is that it could be something really good for the workplace. I know for myself I show up feeling a lot more energised, my blood is already flowing”.

The company launched the scheme last week after spending a long time consulting on how best to get staff cycling. Cash accumulates and is paid out as a bonus at the end of the year.

“We have a time-tracker for work, so we now have a task in the tracker where you just track an hour when you bike to work,” says Chesney.

Tracking fitness

Fitness trackers have taken off in many large corporations, allowing customised, engaging programs. Thirty of the Fortune 500 companies, for example, participate in Fitbit Wellness which the data says saves them money in terms of medical costs and reduced sick days.

(Due to the nature of the US healthcare system, most workers in the private sector have employment-based insurance.)

Looking at BP specifically, it set up a one million step challenge where employees who hit the target during the course of one year became eligible for a more deductible health plan. Results showed that in a single year 23,000 of their staff took more than 23 billion steps.

Another US business in the program celebrated the soccer World Cup in 2014 by challenging its teams to walk a distance roughly equal to the distance between the company’s headquarters and Rio de Janeiro. This worked out to 4.4 miles per member of staff, per day.

Leadership that cares about wellness

It helps of course if the head of people is a total fitness nut. Take Motley Fool, an Australian multimedia financial services company, where free spinning classes, bootcamps, and in-house subsidised massages are all part of the health and fitness mix on offer.

Chief Wellness ‘Fool’ Samantha Whiteside pens a monthly health newsletter for staff, putting the spotlight on a Wellness Fool nominated by his or her peers. Each month she creates a different challenge or theme to keep staff engaged.

“April was called ‘Active April.’ We wanted to challenge them to make one meeting per day an active one. There were push-ups during meetings and people walking around the office. It’s about trying to make every month different from the month prior. It keeps engagement up because people get tired of doing the same things,” Whiteside told Mashable.

No shame

But very visible exercise initiatives may not appeal to all employees, particularly those struggling with weight issues.

That’s why at US online retailer Zappos, the approach to health is more low-key. Wellness coordinator Kelly Maher told Mashable that they have many employees who aren’t taking care of their bodies.

“Our programs get people to realise that stereotypical exercise isn’t the only way to be well and be happy,” he says. “It’s about getting people to want to do things voluntarily, not forcing them.”

To do this, Maher gathers together small groups of employees from different departments and takes them offsite for an hour-long exercise session, for example, a golf lesson, laser tag or trampolining. He has also initiated Recess Tuesdays where playground toys are set out on the company plaza and organically, people will gravitate outside to shoot some hoops, play volleyball or just fool around.

The Zappos wellbeing program started to contribute more than just better health. “Wellness organically grows group camaraderie,” Maher told Forbes. “It’s turned into this way of solidifying the culture we value here.”

For the health of their workforces and for their businesses, these organisations have migrated from a reactive to a proactive wellness strategy. If your workplace is just sitting back and hoping for the best, it may be time for HR to take the first step in changing that policy. HRM welcomes your thoughts.

Access HR guidelines and policy templates on health and wellbeing with online resource AHRI:Assist. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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Mary Tehan
Mary Tehan

My daughter’s company in the UK has been incorporating cycling to work as part of their holiday leave package for at least 5+ years now (each day you cycle to work you add 5 mins annual leave to your allowable amount of leave). She also has a vertical vegetable patch on the balcony of her workplace that staff can take at their fancy. They also have a well-being food program that has been introduced at work by a very well-known food celebrity to encourage healthy eating. Each staff member also does volunteering and gets time off to do it …… Read more »

Kristie Gannon
Kristie Gannon

Absolutely, if HR did take lead of incorporating fitness health into wellbeing programs this results would be positive for both the workplace and employee and help that corporate culture and engagement that we all strive to improve and or maintain as a high functioning team.
I can’t wait until it is the norm rather than the minority.

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