Employers are recognising the wider benefits of incorporating staff fitness and physical activity into an employee wellbeing strategy.
In May 2016, Leeds Beckett University launched its second six-week Beckett Steps Challenge, with 708 campus staff taking part compared to last year’s 380. The challenge, which culminates in June, sees employees make a virtual 1,000-mile journey from London to Rome, tracking progress on an interactive map based on an employee’s step count from a pedometer. With cycling and swimming activity also contributing towards the step total, more than 100 teams of five staff members will make the virtual journey via Paris, Geneva, Turin and Pisa.
John Hamilton, head of health, safety and wellbeing at Leeds Beckett University, said: “We thought we were running a wellbeing challenge, but it turned out to be more of an engagement initiative for working in teams together.”
Other organisations are also taking up the fitness mantle, with Fox Agency seeing a 90% take-up rate for its free group personal training sessions in a local park, while Money.co.uk is covering the cost of football pitch and basketball court hire to allow staff to play sport at lunchtimes.
Gym membership, and establishing a culture that enables staff to use it, as well as encouraging employees to make best use of their lunch breaks, and take the stairs rather than the lift, are some of the others ways in which employers can facilitate physical activity in the workplace.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and 50th anniversary professor of organisational psychology and health at Alliance Manchester Business School, said: “The majority of people in the workplace are now sitting in front of their computers. They are not walking around the organisation very much, and will leave the office to buy a sandwich and then come back. What they should really be doing is taking a proper lunch break and walking some distance.”
There are also wider benefits to employees being physically active. Cooper added: “Keeping physically active is very important but being psychologically active is also very important.”
Hamilton added: “Our evidence shows that if [employees] are active, it’s not just their physical wellbeing that benefits, but their mental wellbeing, their productivity and their happiness. So it’s not just physically being fitter, it has a lot of benefits alongside that so they feel happier and healthier about being at work.
“[The initiative] also hugely engaging on social media, with #Beckettsteps used across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter [where employees] share their photos and experiences. It’s not about competition, it’s about getting involved and people sharing their experiences; our focus is on fun and participation.”