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A fit workforce is a better workforce

Offering employee health and fitness programs can result in all kinds of workplace benefits, including enhanced productivity, higher morale, lower healthcare costs and reduced absenteeism. For the employer, these benefits can also translate into financial savings.

The good news is that starting a program, and even establishing an on-site fitness facility, doesn’t have to cost much money or take up a lot of space. Many offices have space that is either wasted or under-utilized, and setting up a good fitness facility can cost less than $10,000—a figure that could be more than offset by reduced absenteeism and reduced costs for short-term and long-term disability. What’s more, you can do this with less than 1,000 square feet.

Here are a few pointers for setting up a program:

  1. Assemble a fitness committee of five to 10 employee volunteers. Ideally, these are people who already keep a fitness regimen in their own lives. Serving on the committee is not a major commitment; it requires minimal time for facility management and daily operations.
  2. Consider hiring professionals who can run personal training sessions, fitness classes, facility orientations and fitness evaluations. If this can’t be subsidized by the organization, employees can foot the bill themselves, but at least make it available.
  3. Promote the program internally and try to offer variety in terms of one-on-one instruction, group instruction, fitness classes and other forms of activities.

One of my corporate clients has a 1,500-square-foot fitness centre in its head office. The centre has cardiovascular and strength exercise equipment, along with showers, change rooms and a towel service. Its volunteer fitness committee meets every three months, and the services offered at the centre include personal training, fitness classes, yoga and massage. When I was first brought in, the participation rate in the seven-storey office building was 2%, but it soon climbed to 25%.

Of course, many employers today have wellness/fitness programs, and it cuts across all sectors, from large corporations to small firms. Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga has a 1,700-square-foot fitness facility that never closes, while the University Health Network in Toronto has a wellness centre that purposely aims to reduce the impact of absenteeism and disability costs, decrease disease risk factors and promote and encourage healthy behaviours.

Big professional practice firms often offer gym memberships, and even smaller firms are encouraging people to be fit. Shibley Righton LLP, a mid-size firm with 38 lawyers in two offices—Toronto and Windsor—offers subsidized gym memberships to its lawyers, legal assistants and administrative staff.

Says managing partner Sandra Dawe, “We value lawyers having balanced lives, and when given that opportunity, I think most of them will find some physical activity to keep in shape. A fit and healthy body gives energy and confidence, and we like to see both in our people.”

Lack of physical activity can lead to obvious danger signs: sleep deprivation, headaches, weight gain, increased blood pressure, low concentration, lethargy and ergonomic problems such as pain in the back, neck and hips. For employers, putting just a few of these things together means you might not just be looking at increased employee absenteeism, but also serious risk of long-term health problems such as heart attack and stroke – and the costs associated with these.

This article was written by Michael Amernic and published in Benefits Canada

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