What can employers offer to improve employees’ fitness journeys?

employees’ fitness
  • Fitness benefits include discounted or subsidised membership to gyms, health clubs and studios partnerships, providing an annual employee fitness and wellbeing budget and on-site exercise classes.
  • Employers should provide equal access to benefits for all employees, regardless of their work locations.
  • By listening to employees and providing options based on needs and budgets, employers can avoid appearing paternalistic.

Lifesum’s February 2024 State of healthy eating and wellbeing report reported that 71% of Generation Z and millennial employees would quit their job for one that better supported their wellbeing. This high percentage may cause some concern for employers and prompt them to make some changes in order to protect their talent pipelines. As Gitnux’s December 2023 report Exercise and work productivity statistics highlighted, workers who exercise are 46% better at dealing with stress than those who do not, so looking at the fitness benefits they currently offer, or what they could potentially introduce, may be the way forward for some employers.

Fitness benefits

There are many ways that employers can support staff fitness, from simple steps to more comprehensive benefits. For those that have limited budgets, there are affordable avenues to explore, such as free online resources and exercise videos, or fitness challenges focusing on step count, cycling and running. Employees can use their smart technology to track these.

Neil Harmsworth, chief operating officer at gym membership firm Hussle, says: “Walking meetings are an increasingly popular trend, as are lunchtime walking groups, both of which help those in more sedentary roles to get movement in during the working day. There are also a variety of virtual solutions that provide on-demand access to recorded fitness classes, yoga and other relaxation tools.”

As well as providing an annual employee fitness and wellbeing budget, employers can also partner with gyms, health clubs and studios. They can negotiate a reduced rate for employees, set up a payment scheme through payroll, or pay either a contribution or the full amount towards membership. Sit-to-stand desks, extended breaks or flexing start and finish times to enable staff to exercise during off-peak hours are also useful.

Employers could also provide employees with a nutrition and meal planning tool to better understand eating habits and any wellbeing impact, says Wesleigh Roeca, workplace wellbeing director at healthy eating app Lifesum.

“This can be amplified through engagement tactics such as recipe-swapping groups, webinars, lunch and learns, and cooking demonstrations,” she says. “Employers can ensure availability of healthy snacks and beverages throughout the office, fostering employee wellbeing champion groups, and educating managers on how they can demonstrate healthy habits.”

Bypassing barriers

A typical modern employer may have workers in a variety of locations which can pose challenges when choosing benefits to meet their needs. Ensuring equitable access to benefits for all employees, regardless of their locations, requires an inclusive and flexible approach.

Nadia Ismail, corporate wellbeing specialist at Wellness Cloud, says: “Through employers offering a variety of choices, employees are able to make decisions based on what works best for them. Having options that are close to home, near the office, or fully online means employees can choose what works best for them and their lifestyle.”

Employers should utilise multiple mediums such as email, intranet portals, virtual meetings and printed materials when communicating fitness benefits, to reach all of their employees. Virtual fitness classes and remote health support can be useful, as well as flexible platforms that offer access to a variety of gym chains and locations.

Accessible resources, such as online exercise videos, can work well for those on shift patterns, says Rachel Western, health and risk principal at Aon. “Lunchtime office exercise or yoga classes can be streamed online for those at home, or recorded and shared,” she adds.

Employers should also work with employees to identify any potential barriers to exercising, such as juggling caring responsibilities outside working hours, says Dr Bev Taylor, women’s health specialist at Wellness Cloud. “Once employers know these, they will be much better placed to offer a package that supports their specific needs,” she says.

What staff want

In order to learn what employees want for their fitness, employers should conduct regular surveys and polls, which can be done confidentially. By providing options that target the needs and budgets of as many workers as possible, employers can allow them to choose what works best for them and avoid being perceived as paternalistic.

Luke Bullen, vice president, head of UK and Ireland at Wellhub, formerly Gympass, says: “Through giving employees the opportunity to personalise their fitness routines, access virtual training sessions and track their health metrics, employers are fostering a more tailored and convenient approach. By encouraging a culture of transparency and mutual respect, employers can strike a balance between meeting needs and avoiding the perception of control.” 

Shireen Walker, founder of health and wellness provider HubFiit, adds: “Organisations should champion their initiatives and have open conversations around health and wellbeing, while respecting individual autonomy and preferences.”

Benefits of improved fitness

Lower sickness absence levels and increased productivity, engagement and performance in the workplace can often be achieved as a result of healthy and happy employees.

“When exercise becomes part of its culture, the perception of the business among employees is likely one that is positive, supportive and holds a true desire to look after its staff,” says Hussle’s Harmsworth. “This will reflect in its ability to attract and retain top talent.”

Western adds: “Improving fitness can be beneficial, especially for mental health, cardiac, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions, which can be some of the highest risk areas for employee health as far as absenteeism and claims on other benefits, such as private medical insurance, group income protection and group life assurances. A healthier workforce is likely to be less of a risk concern.”

It is crucial that employers provide initiatives that cater to their workforce’s health and wellbeing needs, as this will ensure that they remain happy, healthy and productive while at work.