HR Guide: Promoting physical health

Advice and top tips

HR Guide: Promoting physical health

Let’s get physical

When it comes to promoting physical health in the workplace, the key ingredient for success is engagement.

Smart HR understands that fitness is not a case of ‘one size fits all’ for employees, and that considerations like age and ability are important if individual health needs are to be met effectively.

However, one factor that encourages universal positive attitudes towards physical health is enjoyment.

The most cutting-edge, high-tech and deeply researched health resources on the planet could be offered to staff, but if they lack that all-important element of ‘fun’, the uptake is likely to be low.

That’s why HR managers across the globe are so keen to find the most original, creative and innovative ideas that will capture the imagination of employees.

From the quirky to the downright bizarre, and the unexpected to the obvious, it’s amazing what’s out there to inspire HR physical health leaders.

Californian creativity

While some businesses may offer healthy eating options in their vending machines, Facebook has gone quite a few steps further at its Silicon Valley campus.

Instead of dispensing the traditional chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks, employees can get all the essential parts and equipment needed to repair their bikes. It’s part of a wider cycling culture at the company, which provides bikes for employers to get around the sprawling site.

Chegg is another Silicon Valley-based company keen to help its workforce stay in shape.

As well as providing access to an on-site gym, the education technology company has built a mini golf course. And for those employees who require a gentler form of exercise there is an oversized chessboard and pool table.

Engaging employees in physical health activities can sometimes be an uphill struggle, so why not go full-on vertical with a climbing wall?

Again, Silicon Valley HR managers were quick to include these in corporate spaces because they recognised their high appeal to employees.

In addition to physical exercise, climbing walls also allow for a cognitive workout as workers’ problem-solving skills are called upon to find the best route to the top.

Over in Las Vegas, online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos enables employees to participate in some friendly competition with weekly laser tag sessions during lunch-hour.

Dating app Hinge injects romance into its attempts to improve employees’ physical health.

Its ‘Great Dates’ programme gives each employee $200 each month to spend on dates to get their hearts pumping in more ways than one.

Hiking is a popular choice, as is taking a fitness class with a date. Well, it worked for Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta in Perfect!

Big in Japan

In Japan, employers are looking at ways of incorporating workouts into the working day.

Many employees spend eight or more hours sitting at their desks each day. It is part of a sedentary work culture that can have an adverse effect on health. Inactivity can increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders – the leading cause of occupational illness – as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Itoki Corp, an Osaka-based office equipment company, installed adjustable desks so that staff had the option of standing while they work.

Markings were placed on hallway floors to encourage employees to take longer strides. In addition, ‘stretch points’, identified by wall and floor markings, enabled staff to position themselves and give their legs and backs a stretch – particularly important for those who spend the majority of their day hunched in a chair.

Extending the opportunity for a good stretch is electrical equipment, telecommunications and defence business, Fujikura. It installed monkey bars at its Tokyo-based offices for workers to hang around on whenever they feel the need to straighten themselves out.

Getting on top of health Down Under

Australia, like Japan, is a great believer in optimizing health opportunities in the workplace.

If staff can’t get to the on-site gym, then bring the gym to their desk is a solution that one Australian company has come up with.

Alsco, a linen and workwear rental services company based in New South Wales, encourages employees to participate in five-minute exercise sessions during the day.

Instructional videos demonstrate how shoulder rolls, chair squats, standing calf raises and tricep dips can all be performed using nothing but a sturdy desk.

Lengthy telephone conversations can take up a considerable amount of time but Alsco views them as another way of getting workers out of their chairs. Staff are encouraged to ‘walk the talk’ to help relieve any back discomfort and improve fitness in general.

This idea could be applied to physical meetings, too, where instead of sitting around a table, teams could take a cardiovascular fitness-boosting walk around the grounds.

Besides the physical benefits, walking meetings have also been shown to increase creative output, boost energy and improve focus.

One of Alsco’s more unconventional suggestions is ‘Conference Call Push-Ups’. As the name suggests, this involves doing ten push-ups every ten minutes during conference calls. Unless you want your grunts to interrupt meetings at key moments, it’s best to press the mute button during exertions. Lycra is optional.

If your employees are the type who thrive on fun, you might want to consider introducing them to the delights of Zuu, a hit in Australia.

Aping primal behaviour, Zuu is a workout that uses 30 animal movements. Exercises include the bear crawl (walking on all fours) and the frog squat.

Apart from the physical benefits, just imagine how many endorphins could be released if your staff joined colleagues in a gorilla walk – jumping like an ape – round the office!

UK offers a smooth(ie) ride

What goes into your body can be just as important as what you do with it.

Thanks to mindful HR, many companies across the world encourage healthy eating among employees. Some ensure work restaurants have a healthy options bias, while others provide a kitchen area stocked with everything needed to rustle up a healthy snack.

Hiring Smoothie Bikes for your staff takes things a step further.

The stationary bikes are fitted with blenders which are powered by the cyclist pumping the pedals. Fruit or juices are placed in the blender jug and after just 30 seconds of cycling they are transformed into delicious and nutritious smoothies.

The UK-based Smoothie Bike Company also offers a package for your more competitive employees.

Its Cycle Scalextric activity involves a pedal-powered Grand Prix on a Scalextric track. The faster the bikes are pedalled, the faster the cars race around the track. There’s even a leader board to display the results.

Over to you

A healthy workforce is usually a happy, energised and productive workforce.

Existing sedentary habits, both in and out of the workplace, were exacerbated by lockdown restrictions. A 2021 survey by Public Health England found that one third of households were exercising less and eating more unhealthily.

The good news is people were aware of their unhealthy choices and 70 per cent said they wanted to make healthier lifestyle changes.

Such willingness, along with some of the available imaginative and engaging activities explored above, can be harnessed by HR leaders to help point employees towards a healthier future.