Fitness facilities aid employee efficiency

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• Workplace fitness practices should reflect the lifestyle and needs of an organisation’s staff.
• Gym membership can be offered as an onsite facility, as membership at an offsite commercial facility, or a combination of both.
• The perks can be offered standalone or bundled in with a voluntary or flexible benefits programme.
• Additional fitness perks can include bikes-for-work schemes, health assessments and nutritional advice.

Case study: Schlumberger powers a healthier workforce

Oil and gas firm Schlumberger has reimbursed employees’ gym membership up to a maximum of £250 a year for many years. On 1 July 2010 it rolled out Gymflex, provided by Incorpore, making 2,500 health clubs across the UK and Ireland available to the 3,000 staff who are eligible for its eight-year-old flexible benefits scheme.

Barbara Collen, senior benefits analyst at Schlumberger, says: “We did a flex survey in 2009 and gym membership was one of the things that came up in employees’ comments.”

The firm prefaced the launch with 22 roadshows at each of its UK sites. The Gymflex team attended as many as they could, along with other providers, such as flex provider Edenred. It also communicated the scheme using email campaigns, information on the company intranet, and details posted to employees’ homes on the first day of the election period.

Schlumberger also offers other benefits to help staff stay healthy, such as a bikes-for-work scheme, health screening as a flexible benefit or voluntary benefit, and offerings such as physiotherapy through a health cash plan, provided by BHSF.

Offering employees access to fitness facilities can produce a more productive and committed workforce, says Jennifer Paterson

Turning the workplace into a locker room with an onsite gym is one way to promote staff fitness. Simpler options, however, include offering offsite gym membership, bikes for work and running or walking clubs. All promote the health and wellbeing of employees, which in turn can have tangible business benefits.

Almost 90% of UK employers believe that offering more healthcare perks will heighten the appeal of health and wellbeing in the workplace, according to Simplyhealth’s Bothered Britain report published in September. And with sickness absence and workplace stress remaining matters of concern for employers, a focus on fitness is timely.

Bikes-for-work schemes, for instance, are offered via flexible benefits schemes by 83% of respondents to the Employee Benefits/Towers Watson Flexible Benefits Research 2010, published in March. Bicycles obtained through such schemes must be used for at least part of the employee’s journey to work, so staff can clearly see the link between their employer and their fitness, which can help to increase engagement.

Regular health and wellbeing days can be used to promote the benefits on offer or raise awareness of particular conditions.

But before employers introduce gym membership or other health and wellbeing perks, they need to understand the lifestyle and needs of their staff, says Tricia Kalloo, chief executive of Wellness International at Adidas. “Employers should do a lifestyle risk assessment of staff by doing onsite health screenings and then implement gyms or bikes-for-work schemes, and running or walking clubs at lunchtime. Onsite screening is imperative because it gives people the foundation for their own personal health and wellbeing, and lifestyle coaching in terms of their fitness and nutrition journey.

“All health and safety departments do risk assessments of buildings, but they do not do risk assessments of their staff. Employers may find the majority of staff will not engage in a gym because it is intimidating.”

Gym membership options

Employers have several options for offering gym membership. They can provide an onsite facility, offer fully funded, subsidised or discounted membership at an offsite commercial facility, or combine both options to suit different parts of their workforce. Marcus Powell, managing director of corporate wellbeing at Nuffield Health, says: “It is usually space-dependent. If an employer does not have a large, central head office, it will have a relationship with a commercial fitness provider to get a discount on membership. Or it can do a combination of both, offering an onsite facility in its head office and a deal with a club that includes membership on a nationwide basis.”

Onsite gyms are offered mainly by larger employers. Any service that is available at a commercial gym can be provided within an onsite facility, such as access to personal trainers, physiotherapists, massage therapists and nutritional advice. Mike Blake, compliance director at PMI Health, says: “An employer has to have enough space and resources to have a gym onsite. Other employers may have a gym in their office block and can negotiate some kind of rate.”

An average onsite gym tends to have mainly cardiovascular equipment, but can also include weights and a studio for exercise classes. Colin Brett, commercial director at corporate fitness provider Personal Touch Fitness, says: “The whole point is to get staff away from their desk and get an benefit from moving around. That is why treadmills and bikes are better than just having weights.”

If it provides an onsite gym, an employer must work closely with its facilities team, complete the proper risk assessment, and induct each new gym member properly. Brett adds: “We ensure that, at least annually, staff get their biometrics checked – blood pressure and basic health checks. We want to make sure people are getting the benefits of working out, but we don’t want any accidents. We also make sure all our staff are properly trained and have the right qualifications.”

Subsidised fitness classes

Classes can also be offered free or at a subsidised rate. Brett says: “Bigger companies will provide a range of services onsite to attract and retain employees, and also to try to give them the flexibility within their workplace.

The gym is a key part of that. It is a good way of switching off, getting away from it all and trying to reduce stress levels. It also shows the employer values its employees.”

Employers that want to offer gym membership offsite can do so for a single facility or at multiple clubs within the brand, such as Fitness First or Virgin Active. Alternatively, they can offer access to packages which enable employees to use a range of gyms across a variety of brands.

By incorporating gym membership into a benefits package, employers can save staff 25-50% on the cost. Glenn Rankin, director at Incorpore, says: “A lot of employers that [offer] gyms through flex are moving to a multiple-operator solution rather than a single-operator solution. The health clubs are getting their money up-front and a 12-month commitment, so, they discount prices.”

Both onsite and offsite gym membership can be offered as a standalone perk or bundled into a voluntary or flex scheme. It can also be funded via salary sacrifice, which enables employees to save on tax and national insurance (NI), and employers to save NI.

Employers can also offer workplace fitness provisions on a less formal basis, for example running social and active events outside the office, perhaps a softball evening or co-ordinating sponsorship for staff entering events such as the London Marathon. Nuffield Health’s Powell adds: “If an employer can improve the health of its workforce, absence levels for things like musculoskeletal problems, stress-related illnesses and obesity can be reduced.

Organisations are increasingly linking managing that type of performance and absenteeism to making a case for investing in services like fitness facilities.”

But these perks should cater to employees’ lifestyles. Phillip Wood, executive director of sales and marketing at Health Shield, says: “Employers offering fitness benefits should try to make it as easy as possible for staff to make the most of these perks. It will depend on whether they prefer to exercise closer to their work or home. The key is to allow people to have the choice.”

Workplace fitness benefits

• Gym membership at off-site facility
• Onsite gym
• Cycle-to-work scheme
• Health screening
• Running or walking clubs
• Massage therapists
• Physiotherapy services
• Nutritional advice or healthy-eating options in staff canteen
• Lifestyle coaching

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