Wellbeing Works


Our team will keep you up-to-date on all the latest topics and issues in workplace wellbeing.

Workplace Exercise Regimes and Wellbeing: Fit for Purpose?

The limitations of exercise culture in augmenting staff wellbeing

<em>An exercise area within the T-Welllness Centre, located within the "Technogym Village" in Cesena, Italy.</em>

The relationship between holistic wellbeing and physical exercise is widely acknowledged. The Harvard Business Review 2019 estimates that there is a financial yield from “comprehensive and well run” integrated wellbeing programs of 6:1.A comprehensive and well run wellbeing program involves assessing not only the physical aspects of employee needs but equally understand the psychological safety needs of staff. Without the latter being part of a holistic approach you cannot know the extent to which work is impacting upon employees’ sleep, concentration, focus or decision making abilities by inducing psychological and physical discomfort. Physical exercise can help with addressing all of these elements, but some organisations fail to link the physical program with the psychological needs of the workforce.

This strategy has come into greater prominence with the large scale efforts undertaken by Technogym, Apple and Google to promote exercise and wellbeing. The Technogym village includes an extensively outfitted on site gym for employee use along with a T-Wellness center with nutritious and practically free meals for employees, Apple Park (opened in 2017) contains a $74 million 100000 square foot fitness and wellness center, and Google’s incipient £1bn London HQ will provide to employees a swimming pool, rooftop running track and sports hall.

Stories of such immense projects can give the impression that organisations of more modest means cannot hope to reap the same benefits, given the apparent need for substantial investment. This is not the case, as more affordable practices requiring limited investment are possible. For example, fostering a culture of exercise where employees can take a break to exercise can serve as a very strong signal of commitment to wellbeing especially in cultures with long working hours. ; however in assessing the practicality of implementing a culture of fitness it is important to appreciate a number of other important issues.

Workplace fitness initiatives are not a panacea that can be applied regardless of context; existing threats to the psychological safety of your employees may not be of a nature that would render such an organisational initiative appropriate. Research exists suggesting that improperly or inappropriately implemented workplace wellness/fitness programs can in fact be counterproductive; employees within an excessively permissive or insufficiently holistic context tend to self select. This means that employees who are already physically active will take advantage of classes or dispensations, and those who are not may simply feel pressured or indifferent- this self selection can render a culture of exercise either ineffective or detrimental to the productivity of an organisation. Despite the assertion of Dr Silvano Zanuso, director of Technogym’s medical and scientific department, that “Exercise always works if you do it”, a holistic approach is necessary in attempts to improve productivity. Organisations that work in highly reactive and demanding environments and at a high operating tempo may not be an appropriate context for organised regular exercise sessions if the psychological safety of employees is compromised by time pressure. In fact, such pressures are likely to be exacerbated as employees feel guilty or inadequate for failing to attend such sessions.

Productivity is unlikely to be fully secured through the implementation of an exercise culture without an understanding of the pressures faced by employees. Productivity is best addressed through tailoring an approach based upon the psychological safety factors faced by your workforce.

If you are interested in measuring psychological safety, please contact hamish@well-being-works.co.uk for a without-cost demonstration.


Keep up-to-date!

Find out about the latest blogs and events from Wellbeing Works and discover what our clients have to say.