A Better Way to Help Your Employees Get Fit
We probably don’t need to tell you that keeping fit isn’t just good for your employees’ bodies its also good for your business. Plenty of business owners have rounded up the benefits of a healthy workforce here on Inc.com before, including everything from more energy to lower health insurance premiums and team bonding.
Less obvious than the benefits of a fit workforce is how to convince your team to get healthy. After all, we’ve all experienced how tricky it can be to improve fitness just on an individual level. Motivating a whole team to hit the gym and swap green beans for Ben & Jerry’s is even more difficult.
Some business owners opt for the hands on approach, setting up a specific wellness plan and subsidizing the cost, while others advocate turning fitness into a game to harness your staff’s innate competitive streak. Offering healthy food during office hours is another way to go. But all this nudging and nagging can produce a backlash if employees feel like they’re being pushed to do things they’d rather not, or, in the worst cases, get the clear sense that the whole exercise is simply a way for management to shift health-related costs to them.
At 37signals they take a different approach. Rather than dictate how team members need to get in shape or offer prizes or financial penalties based on their progress, the famously innovative software company instead provides a simple fitness subsidy for staff to spend as they like. Emily Wilder recently explained the system on the company blog:
37signals employees get a monthly fitness allowance to put toward whatever helps us stay in shape.
What makes this benefit awesome (and effective) is that we get to choose how to make the most of it for ourselves -- it’s inspired by the same ethos behind our practice of hiring Managers of One, then leaving people alone and counting on them to do good work. Unlike company wellness programs that include discounted memberships at a particular gym or other specific incentives, the laissez-faire approach trusts employees to decide what works best for them.
While a few of us rarely spend the money or use just part of it, many of us leverage it toward activities that might otherwise by cost-prohibitive: primarily gym memberships, classes and personal trainers.
The post goes on to list the variety of activities team members spend their allowance on, from horseback riding to CrossFit and capoeira. The approach is obviously simple to administer -- just dangle cash and let employees decide whether to take advantage of the offer or leave a perk on the table -- and by the sound of the diverse list of activities it’s also popular. Plus, there’s no risk of a backlash or backsliding once the management sponsored healthy living push winds down.
Looking for other ways to encourage healthy living without annoying your team? Simple changes to the work environment you provide them might help.
Would 37signal’s approach to fitness work at your business?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.