Energize your employees: Health and Fitness in the Office

The new year is often accompanied by new goals and resolutions. And what better company goal than to help your employees achieve theirs?  

A resolution to prioritize health and fitness is one that will benefit both your staff and your bottom line. Numerous studies have shown that encouraging healthy behaviour in the office positively affects employee engagement, efficiency, and work quality.  

One University of Toronto study by the Health Communication Unit found that supporting employee physical and mental health resulted in improved productivity, less absenteeism, higher morale, reduced staff turnover, and a more receptive climate for workplace changes. The researchers also observed that one company, Canada Life Assurance Co., saved an incredible $7 for every one dollar spent on health promotion. Yet another study, published by HealthAffairs in 2010, found absenteeism costs fell by $2.73 for every dollar spent on wellness programs.  

Despite the benefits, valuing health and fitness in the workplace is not the norm. In 2015, the non-profit Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) surveyed more than 500 business leaders across the U.S.; only 57 per cent said their organization viewed health as an investment in human capital or as part of their core business strategy.   

Want to kick-start 2018 wellness goals for your team and your business? Here are six ways to encourage healthy habits to improve employee engagement and performance: 

  1. Make being active easy. Most of us lack the energy to go to the gym after a long day at work, and we value those precious hours of sleep in the morning. How can we be motivated to fit in a workout? Many companies are recognizing the power of exercise as a preventative health measure and want to make it easy for their staff to incorporate fitness into their workday. For the past four years, Vancouver-based business (and  Project House client) Lloyds Travel & Cruises has offered yoga to its staff twice a week, on Mondays after work and during office hours on Fridays. Managing director and owner Wendy Fougner participates with her staff, and says her colleagues are appreciative and the yoga sessions help reduce stress. 
  2. Financially reward active lifestyles. A company in Vermont created a green incentives program that rewards employees who choose to walk or bike to work by providing them with a $200 gift card to a local sporting goods store so they can maintain their bike or keep their feet comfortable with good walking shoes. Other companies offer to reimburse or subsidize fitness club dues for their employees. The Globe and Mail reported that Toronto-based QA Consultants in Toronto pays for its staff’s gym memberships as long as they are used at least 12 times per month.
  3. Encourage commuter cyclists. No one wants to arrive to work wet, and we live in one of the rainiest cities in the country. Take a look at your office space and nearby amenities: are you able to offer your team a place to shower, change, securely park their bike, and hang their wet gear? While this is an extreme example, Vancouver General Hospital opened a 24-hour cycling centre featuring storage lockers, change rooms, air pumps, and bike stands with tools where tubes can be patched and brakes adjusted.
  4. Create a friendly – and voluntary – competition. Establish teams, keep each other on track, and motivate one another through physical challenges with attainable goals and enjoyable wellness-related prizes, such as spa certificates. Teams could track how many fitness classes are attended in a specific time frame, or see which group can collectively walk a designated number of kilometres first. Some companies have chosen to use Fitbit’s group health packages and technology to digitally track and reward their most active employees.
  5. Offer healthy food choices. We all know healthy eating habits go hand in hand with regular exercise. The holiday season in particular can be a minefield of chocolates and treats at work. Google’s New York office found they could “nudge” employees toward healthier food choices by putting the salad bar front and centre and making the candy less visible. Instead of bringing in that box of donuts, perhaps consider seasonal fruit, like a box of mandarin oranges at Christmastime.
  6. Educate, in a social and interactive setting. Talk regularly about workplace wellness at staff meetings to show it’s a priority, or bring experts in for informal lunchtime sessions. The website for Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month suggests inviting a registered dietician for “lunch & learn” sessions where staff can ask questions about topics like diet myths and how to make gradual changes to unhealthy eating habits. We’ve also enjoyed bringing Ergonomics and Workstation lunch & learns to clients.


The entire office benefits when a business invests in the wellness of its people, and making it collaborative and fun will increase your chance for sustainable success. Colleagues are more engaged at work, take fewer sick days, recover more quickly after illnesses and injuries, and stay at their company longer. What does your business do to encourage healthy living? Tell us at hello@projecthouse.ca.

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