Back in 2010, fresh out of university like a fish out of the water I applied for every job under the sun that seemed to relate somewhat to business. One day I sat down to an interview at an accounting firm for a job in insolvencies (I had to Google insolvencies ahead of time) and the man I sat across from, I recognised from a triathlon clinic I took part in during the summer. The interview went well enough, I was asked the typical interview questions and I answered them the best I could. But in the end, we just ended up chatting about triathlons and fondly recounted the gruelling early morning training sessions.
Maybe my bachelor’s degree ticked a box somewhere, but this manager already knew from the training we did together that I possessed qualities he looks for in an employee. His hiring principle was based on a theory that people who dedicate time to keeping healthy, active and fit, have a tendency to be reliable, healthy and productive workers. Who was I to argue? It was a junior role and I was taught the skills I needed.
What I’m writing is not traditional and there are surely some old-school managers out there that will be rolling their eyes if they manage to keep reading through the rest of what I have to say. And on that note, I’ll point out that I’m not recommending job seekers to immediately sign up for a triathlon or managers to hire based on fitness level. What companies can be doing is setting a positive workplace culture that promotes enjoyment of the workplace and actually encourages everyone in the company to take care of themselves.
I’d like to argue that a workplace fostering a culture of fitness has a tremendous impact on productivity and employee satisfaction. I actually think this has a ripple effect that reaches far wider than the workplace, keeping people generally happier and inspiring other workplaces to do the same. But for now, let’s focus on the benefits for one single company; Draw.
Every Tuesday morning at 7:30am, a group of Draw account managers, designers, developers and directors, gather at the basketball court in a park outside our office. We are then willingly led through 45 minutes of physical activity by Will at Good Form Training. We run, squat, lunge, play games and generally make fools of ourselves to the passersby (toilet tag and 'hopping' tag tend to make an embarrassing appearance from week to week ). We sweat, we laugh and we complain. When it’s done, we all walk back to the office together and start our days energised and refreshed.
Outside our office entryway, there is a hallway clogged with bikes that people don’t risk leaving outside (old-school manager is flinching). Between 8am and 8:30am, people are trickling into the office in varying levels of sweat and disarray, queueing up for the showers, ironing shirts and hanging wet towels on the radiators (old-school manager has now shut his laptop).
You know what else we’re doing? Laughing, smiling, comparing notes about our run or cycle into work, egging each other on for the next bootcamp or watching sped up replays of our manic game of hopping tag. We’re awake, we’re ready for the day, and we are energised (queue cheesy 80’s sitcom music).
At Draw, we are proud of our workplace culture and it encompasses much more than a culture of fitness. 'Mid-Week Mindfulness' brings us together for 10 minutes of guided meditation each week and we start our Thursdays with a meal prepared by a colleague at breakfast club. I wouldn’t necessarily think that Draw makes a distinct point to focus on fitness, for example there are no yoga mats or pilates balls in the office, no punching bags, climbing walls or rowing machines (yet). But it’s somehow become an important part of the culture and it’s a really positive one that many companies would benefit from adopting for the following reasons:
- Improved productivity
- More energy
- Reduction in absences
- Long term benefits - workers being less prone to preventable illnesses
- Better moods
We are a busy agency with people working around the clock and travelling for meetings in London and across the world as needed. The stresses associated with busy schedules and work demands require a way to maintain a level of sanity and focus. One bootcamp each week might not solely provide the solution and an intensive fitness class won’t appeal to everyone. Draw’s bootcamp was immediately attractive to a select few in the agency but we christened it ‘Super Fitness Fun’ in efforts of broader appeal in the office. It’s all in the name is it not?
Encouraging people to make the time to include fitness in our daily lives is so beneficial in a physical sense but also mentally. There are many ways to do this and a lot of companies out there are making it happen, even making time for employees to take part in fitness during the working day. Fitness trackers are widespread and some companies are incentivising employees using the data. Additionally, insurance companies are offering benefits based on activity. Just like my manager whose job offer hinged on my triathlon participation, people are catching on that there is great value in a workplace filled with people who are physically active.
A study done by RAND Europe found a positive association between lack of physical activity and workplace productivity loss. The results of this study also indicate the importance of relationships at work and how the work environment can contribute to improved employee health and wellbeing. Surely in this case, there is a win-win situation with a workplace culture that focuses on fitness. Fitness naturally brings people together building relationships with activities that people collectively take part in.
It’s no secret that a good diet and regular exercise can dramatically reduce the rates of heart disease, yet most people still aren’t moving nearly enough each day. There are so many illnesses on the rise that are completely preventable. People spend long days sitting at a desk staring at a screen and aren’t making fitness a priority. Companies can make a huge impact just by making health and fitness more accessible and encouraging a shift in priorities. The longer hours that people are working in Britain isn’t increasing productivity (The Guardian) but what we’re finding will increase productivity is more physical activity and positive relationships at work.
Ryan Holmes, CEO and founder of Hootsuite is not shy on the subject and is a strong promoter for ‘companies that sweat together stay together.’ I’m lucky enough to work at a company that does indeed sweat together, just walk by the basketball court on Tuesday mornings to witness it. You’ll have a laugh and will likely want to join in.