Alice Sinclair: Should employers encourage staff to take up fitness activities?

At a time when employers are cutting back on bonuses and promotions, initiatives to improve employee fitness can be an effective way to show staff that they are valued.

Participation in fitness activities can also relieve stress and lead to reduced absenteeism, better employee engagement and an improved employer profile.

At the Institute for Employment Studies, we have reviewed a variety of success stories where employers have set up fitness classes, organised regular walks, subsidised gym membership and encouraged staff to cycle to work.

Useful lessons have been learned. First, it is important to offer a range of fitness activities. A company football team, for example, may have narrow appeal, so consider other activities that may attract female staff or older workers.

Activities should be available at different times of day. After-work activities may deter staff with families, while lunchtime exercise may not appeal if no showers are available.

Enthusiasm for fitness activities can wane, so staff should be consulted regularly about their preferences. Ideally, senior managers should lead by example by participating themselves.

Tying activities to charity sponsorship events, such as the Three Peaks Challenge or local marathons, can offer a feel good element for those who cannot be actively involved.

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Most important is for activities to be fun and offer a chance to socialise. It is unrealistic to expect to involve all employees, but promoting these activities tells staff that the organisation values their wellbeing.

Alice Sinclair is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies