Offering on-site fitness classes for staff can help to overcome the argument that they do not have the time to exercise or access to suitable facilities.
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- Employers should determine employee interest before introducing fitness classes in the workplace.
- A suitable location with adequate capacity for class attendees is key.
- Health and safety should be the primary consideration for employers’ class programme strategies.
However, setting up an on-site fitness or wellbeing class is not necessarily straightforward, and there are a number of steps organisations must consider.
1. Establish staff interest
Employers should start by identifying the fitness and wellbeing classes that would interest their employees, because there is no point providing classes that no one will attend.
Oliver Gray, managing director and founder of EnergiseYou, says: “The whole objective of any employee wellbeing activity is to impact on the health and wellbeing of the entire workforce, as opposed to a small minority.”
Doctor Andrew Jones, wellbeing managing director at Nuffield Health, adds: “A successful fitness centre or on-site classes totally depend on the take-up.”
Employers can use a staff survey or employee focus groups to discover interest levels, particularly around specialist classes such as yoga, pilates, tai chi or zumba.
Leanne Rigby, director of Feel Good Co, says: “Employees now seem to be much more receptive to doing specialist classes rather than being members of local gyms, because the cost of gyms has gone up quite significantly.
“Employers have got to be able to offer something different in the workplace to what staff can get in the local gym.”
2. Find a suitable location
Next, employers should identify a suitable space or location for the classes. It is important to ensure there is good ventilation and water facilities nearby, and that there is ample capacity for the likely number of attendees.
Beate O’Neil, head of wellness consulting at Punter Southall Health and Protection Consulting, says: “There are considerations in terms of health and safety that need to be taken, both in terms of the space, what equipment is needed and whether any of the equipment is going to be moved.
“If an employer is using an office or a meeting room and needs to start moving chairs and desks around, [it] needs to think about the risks.
“Considering the Health and Safety at Work Act will be important, because organisations have a duty of care towards employees, as well as the contractors they bring in to deliver such a wellness programme.”
Employers that are unable to host a class on-site could consider introducing off-site clubs, such as lunchtime walking clubs, or perhaps official schemes such as the Global Corporate Challenge, a 12-month programme designed to boost the health and performance of employees at organisations across the world.
3. Consider insurance requirements
Insurance is another health and safety consideration for employers, which will involve them deciding whether to partner with a large healthcare provider that can tick this box for them or bring in a qualified instructor to run the classes.
O’Neil says: “A lot of people might call themselves a personal trainer or a yoga teacher, but do not have the right qualifications, which are necessary.
“It is then up to the employer to find out if this is something [it is] going to cover on [its] insurance, or whether the individual that provides the training will cover these.”
Nuffield Health’s Jones adds: “The most important thing is for employers to make sure the facility is safely designed and fit for purpose, make sure all the equipment is safe and that nobody is going to get injured by using it in the wrong way.”
4. Offer health assessments
Before introducing classes, employers might consider conducting some basic health assessments with employees to identify health risks that may prevent them from taking part.
Employers might also consider introducing on-site wellness kiosks, so employees can measure their own blood pressure, pulse, weight and body mass index before starting classes.
O’Neil says employers should consider how they will measure the classes’ impact on employees’ health and wellbeing.
“If an employer is looking at promoting health and wellness in the workplace, it is quite important to see whether it has a positive impact,” she says.
“If an employer has key indicators to show that staff are quite engaged and really like the lunchtime classes, then that can be quite positive, and it has a positive impact on output for the employer as well.”
5. Create an engaging communication strategy
The final consideration for employers before launching this healthcare benefit is a communication strategy to promote the classes.
Feel Good Co’s Rigby says: “It is so vital that the communications are good.”
Rigby works with organisations to ensure their communications are engaging, and that relevant information is posted on their intranet sites.
“We can set up groups as well, a bit like a LinkedIn group, so they can communicate with other employees within the group,” she says.
On-site fitness classes can be presented to staff as an extra item in their benefits package. But employers must ensure that whatever they offer is aligned with the needs of their workforce, to ensure it impacts positively on staff health and wellbeing.
A comprehensive due diligence process can ensure employers introduce the most effective scheme possible.
O’Neil says employers must also consider how to monitor class attendance and manage bookings.
“If they have a small room and there [are] a lot more staff interested in attending [than they have capacity for], how are they going to deal with over-subscription, or under-subscription if there aren’t many people interested?” she adds.
6. Expect a realistic return on investment
EnergiseYou’s Gray advises also employers to consider the fact that on-site fitness classes may not always necessarily deliver a good return on investment, irrespective of the activities on offer.
“Take a yoga class as an example,” he says. “There might be X% of employees in an organisation that actually want to do yoga in the first place. Then there will be a certain amount, out of that percentage, that simply won’t want to do it with their colleagues. And out of that percentage, there is a certain amount that [won’t be] available at the given times.
“An employer is then left with such a tiny percentage of employees that the class doesn’t become viable and the take-up isn’t good.”
Open, ongoing dialogue between employers and staff can help to ensure classes remain in demand and that the employer’s investment is not wasted.
Case study: Chiswick Park
Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work has offered employees its ‘Fit for a fiver’ programme, which includes on-site lunchtime sessions in yoga, pilates, tai chi and kickboxing since 2011.
The business park, which houses employers such as Absolute, Disney Discovery, Paramount and Starbucks, runs a variety of regular health and wellbeing events, which are available to 8,000 employees across 45 organisations.
It also hosts annual wellness weeks with a focus on information seminars and one-to-one health clinics.
In 2014, classes and sessions will include hot yoga, karate and zumba, as well as reiki, life coaching and nutrition on the go. Feel Good Friday, with provider Feel Good Co, offers access to on-site manicures and massages.
Gemma McNeilis, communications and corporate social responsibility manager for Chiswick Park Enjoy-Work, says: “Employees benefit from programmes and services designed to support work-life balance and increase productivity.
“We are constantly building upon our existing health and wellbeing programme to increase its impact, reach greater numbers of employees and more closely align with our [employers’] objective to be an employer of choice.
“We understand that the future financial health of organisations relates closely to the wellbeing of their employees.”
Trial and error
To determine the types of class in which employees were most interested, the business park went through a lot of trial and error. “We are in regular discussion with the employees on the park, and they are not shy in telling us what they want,” says McNeilis.
“We are able to quickly respond to feedback and adapt our programmes accordingly. Each summer we employ a team of experts to run our weekly sports programme. They quickly develop a rapport with employees, and we have been fortunate enough to attract some former Olympians.”
The various fitness classes, as well as other health and wellbeing benefits, are communicated across the business park using an intranet site, email, electronic screens and word of mouth.
McNeilis adds: “All activities take place outside in a highly visible area, so even the most reluctant fitness fans can’t help but see it, and hopefully be persuaded to join.”
Classes that require minimal equipment
- Tai chi
- Martial arts