Company-wide fitness programs provide a host of benefits to organizations. When employees exercise, they generally take fewer sick days and work more productively. Wellness programs can also help to inspire brand loyalty, build comradery among colleagues, improve internal communications, and boost employee satisfaction. Neuroscientists have even identified enhanced cognitive functioning, memory retention, and creativity after regular workouts. 

Why Should Businesses Include Wellness in Their Company Culture? 

It’s no secret that exercise is good for you. But why should employers develop a company culture that embraces wellness? Executives at top-performing publicly traded businesses believe values-based organizations (VBOs) help workers feel united, cared for, and more motivated, which in turn reinforces the quality of their product or service. Based on employee and customer surveys, employee satisfaction directly correlates with the customer experience. A values-based company culture also affects the company’s overall productivity, brand loyalty, average tenure length, talent retention rates, and even the business’s market viability. 

A two-year review of over 12,800 businesses around the globe found that most organizations believe a caring environment is the most important element in a company’s culture. Safety and enjoyment were also identified among the top eight cultural pillars across business profiles. By building a corporate culture that addresses employee wellness, you’ll prove to your team they’re cared for as individuals and serve a greater purpose in the company. 

Should I Create Incentives for My Company’s Fitness Program? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), health-related productivity losses can add up to over $225 billion a year. In light of this information, it’s understandable why some employers are taking a bold new direction—paying employees to exercise.  

You can organize a rewards program by assigning employees credits for the number of steps they take, the hours they put in at the gym, or the number of classes they attend. As an alternative, you could also give employees the opportunity to work out during their shift. Set a cap (for example, 5 hours a week) and additional stipulations based on their overall work performance and attendance. 

Other common incentives include: 

  • Additional paid time off 
  • Access to a nutritionist or personal trainer 
  • Reduced insurance premiums  
  • Contributions to an HAS 
  • Copay or deductibles waivers  
  • Comped gym memberships and subscriptions 
  • Prizes, like gift cards, fitness gear, etc. 

The RAND Corporation estimates only about 20% of employees will participate in any type of company wellness program if they don’t have an incentive. When an incentive is added, however, that number jumps to 40%. When employers offered a reward valued at $100 or more, 59% was the highest recorded participation rate in the study. 

What Can I Do to Launch an Engaging Fitness Program? 

There’s more you can do to drive employee engagement beyond providing monetary incentives. Here are a few suggestions:  

  • Solicit feedback from your employees about what they want in a wellness program. Incorporate this feedback into your approach. 
  • Be flexible about adjusting policies to suit the needs of your staff. For example, if employees don’t attend group exercise classes because they don’t have time to shower before returning to work, offer an extended lunch break. 
  • Be body-positive and encouraging. 
  • Set realistic, incremental goals for gradually building employee engagement.  
  • Include information about the wellness program in company-wide newsletters and employee communications. 
  • Organize an awareness campaign and task force for promoting the wellness program. 
  • Let employees invite other household members to virtual classes—or organize events that cater to families specifically.
  • Give employees options so they can choose an activity and gym they enjoy. 

Help! I Created a Wellness Program. Why Aren’t Employees Participating?  

Putting together a wellness program for your business entails more than sending out a memo. Here are a few common mistakes that could hamstring your initiative: 

  • Offering a limited suite of exercise programs that aren’t accessible to employees with disabilities and/or limited mobility.  
  • Creating competitive situations that intimidate and discourage beginners or pit employees against each other.  
  • Failing to accommodate employees from various cultural backgrounds—for example, by enforcing a uniform or hosting events on Friday afternoons during Shabbat.  
  • Creating events that are predicated on gender. These restrictions could be unintentional, like organizing a basketball match that happens to only include men. 
  • Only offering classes that are site-specific or occur during peak working hours. 
  • Focusing on weight-loss or using potentially offensive language to describe fitness. For example: telling employees to get “bikini-ready” or dismissing people who have different body types. 
  • Failing to involve top leadership and brand ambassadors. 

Key Takeaways

Be intentional about your internal communications with employees. When you describe your company’s fitness program, think about the emotional sentiment: Does your messaging invoke positive or negative associations? By adopting an encouraging tone and focusing on the benefits of the program instead of lecturing teams about what they “should” do, you’ll motivate people to attend.  

As a business leader, focus on building awareness and making people feel welcome. Employees are eager to participate in company-sponsored wellness programs—about two-thirds of Americans say they want to exercise more—but they don’t feel like they have the time or energy to do so. Employers can help by creating incentives and fully incorporating wellness into the overall company culture.