What role can workplace sports and social clubs have within a health and wellbeing strategy?

social clubs

Need to know:

  • Workplace sports and social clubs, such as football teams, theatre groups and chess clubs, support social wellbeing as part of a broader health and wellness strategy.
  • Forging employee relationships away from work can improve business outcomes by encouraging creativity and collaboration.
  • Clubs should be inclusive and not simply centre around physical activity and exercise, to effectively reach the most people.

The business case for supporting employees’ physical, mental and financial health has gained solid ground in recent years, but Health and wellbeing at work, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth in April 2019, found that 61% of organisations do not have a formal strategy around social wellbeing, specifically.

Rachel Suff, senior relations adviser at the CIPD, says: “It’s really overlooked by organisations how important that social and collective aspect of wellbeing is. It’s really important that employers encourage social, inclusive communication and collaboration between people, aside from working relationships.”

Beyond just physical health, sports and social clubs can play an integral part in boosting all elements of wellbeing, incorporating the often overlooked element of social wellness.

Relationship building

One advantage of sports and social clubs is their impact on relationships and mental health, counteracting isolation, for example, by setting aside a time for employees to come together regardless of their varied working patterns.

Nick McClelland, commercial leader at Mercer, says: “Workplaces start to become like destinations, rather than everyday places for individuals to go, primarily due to flexible working. There is a danger that [the] fun aspect of coming to work can be dissipated as we change the way [we are] working.”

At property development and construction organisation Bam Construct UK, evening events have helped to build social connections away from the workplace, says Andrea Singh, HR director.

“The sports and social club helps develop that deeper level of team spirit,” she explains. “We assume that people have got families they go home to every night and that’s not always the case. [Clubs] reduce stress and loneliness; there’s a real element of connection. It [creates] long-lasting relationships that lead to happy, healthy workforces.”

There can also be direct influences on an employer’s bottom line, encouraging creativity and strong team working, as well as creating a sense of belonging. “Out of that will come a more engaged workforce,” says Suff. “If [employees are] socialising informally, it will help relationships and prevent [silos].”

Boosting mental health

Clubs are also useful for helping employees disconnect from work and do something creative or different, which is particularly pertinent as home working becomes more common, the always-on culture more prevalent, and work-life separation harder to achieve.

Sian Smith, founder at talk and workshop provider Apricity London, says: “The brain enjoys learning new things and it does have a very positive effect on mental health. It’s a gap in the employer world; people forget that being creative is incredibly nurturing and, as [people reach adulthood], something that [they often] just leave behind.”

This resonates with Bam Construct UK, which offers employees access to some unusual activities. “Our sports and social club is all about creating the opportunity for people to take advantage of, and do things, they’ve perhaps not thought of doing, [such as] quad biking, clay pigeon shooting, or deep sea fishing,” says Singh.


Workplace clubs often centre around physical activity and fitness, and although these have their place, not all staff will engage with them, either due to preference or capability.

“That’s not necessarily how everybody wants to think about their wellness,” McClelland explains. “[Employers should] create a personalised approach that feels inclusive, feels like people can get involved, but doesn’t isolate or make [them] feel uncomfortable.

“An individual’s personality is going to shape how they want to interact; providing enough variation is really, really important, [and] maybe looking further than the extroverts who set up the running club.”

Virtual sports clubs, for example, in which staff use technology to share results and encouragement without actually exercising together, can accommodate less confident individuals, as well as those based remotely.

Club creation

To set up successful and sustainable initiatives, wellbeing champions and employee surveys can help employers canvass opinions on what clubs are desirable. “[Employers] really have no idea of what people are involved in,” says Suff. “Try and tap in to all interests and imagination that collectively a workforce could have.”

Employers should also be prepared to provide resources and funding, adds Singh. “We spend over £100,000 on the sports and social clubs, just to subsidise their events. There needs to be true commitment from the business.”

Staff also need to be given time during the working day to plan and host events and activities, and communications should be proactive and engaging. This might sound like a considerable commitment and investment, but the impact can be significant.

As Singh concludes: “There’s an absolute link from sports and social clubs into health and wellbeing and into delivering the business bottom line. They can be really vibrant because they are run by employees for employees.

“[Clubs] give a real profile to the importance of health and wellbeing and social support, [giving] employees a sense of identity with each other and the organisation. It helps to develop the brand for the organisation [and] can carry through the organisation’s vision around health and wellbeing.”