Most companies now recognize how desirable it is to encourage physical activity amongst their employees. Physically active employees pay lower healthcare premiums, and generally have better engagement, mood, and self-esteem. A study says that 52% of workers surveyed claimed they had more energy and felt more productive when participating in a wellness program, and 35% said they had taken fewer sick days. Research backs this up – employees who get at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week miss an average of 4.1 fewer days of work per year.

While there is no question on the desirability of providing ways to stimulate regular physical exercises to employees, the way to turn this concept into a reality is not as obvious as it appears to most companies. Employers are currently more likely to provide online wellness information or educational tools as a way to promote healthier behavior. However, it is becoming more common for the employer to offer more direct ways to make possible physical activities directly. Many employees want to be physically healthy and appreciate what their employer can provide in terms of benefits, so these corporate offerings are in line with both employees’ desires and important benefits to companies.

For most employers today there is not yet a clear path to execute this idea – increasing employees’ physical activity – a reality. According to a survey by Principle Wellness Co. a fitness center discount is the most common wellness benefit – meaning that fitness perks can help attract and retain quality talent. The different solutions that most employers deploy today have different pros and cons versus the goals of a corporate well-being program, the pains it helps to alleviate, and its cost. Among the different options that are available today, there are three major ways in which employers can provide access to physical activities to employees, with different advantages and disadvantages:

Reimbursement for physical activities

The employer can reimburse employees for their physical activities related costs, paying them the money it costs to keep a membership in the gym of their choice.

  1. Flexibility of choice to the employee. Employees can choose a gym that is convenient for them and offers the specific programs and classes they choose. With some reimbursement programs, they might also be able to take the money and put it towards pursuing a sport or an unusual fitness activity (such as the growing popularity of circus fitness).
  2. Lower direct to employees as they are using the reimbursement to deduct their direct out-of-pocket costs.
  3. Tax benefit to companies. Although the reimbursements are taxable for employees, they are a deductible expense for employers.
  4. Tracking of employees are enrolled (i.e. paying for) in physical activities
  1. Cost to employers. Each employee will go after their own choice of program, paying the market price for it. Hence, employers are not taking any advantage of their size and scale to have access to significantly better deals to promote the same level of service.
  2. Although there is possible tracking of enrollment and payment, there is no actual tracking of usage and activity. Therefore, it is harder to show the actual return on investment of the program. Low oversight – some employees may sign up for and collect the benefit and then use it for something other than gym membership.
  3. Also, the employer is incurring on the cost of reimbursement to the part of the population that are enrolled but not actually engaged in physical activities. Employees have an incentive to enroll and get the reimbursement, regardless of the usage, as there is no proper oversight of it.
  4. Limited engagement and incentives for those who are not already exercising. Apart from getting the reimbursement, there is not a way to encourage enrollment and use (e.g. employees have to do the groundwork of looking for a gym, sign-up etc)
  5. Operational burden to employers. To implement it successfully, process and people in charge of reimbursement are needed, including checking how the policies are being followed, collect receipts etc. The burden is higher if it involves some type of tracking and reporting of enrollment and analysis of the concrete results of the program.

In-House Gym or Fitness Center

Some companies choose to keep their gym and fitness activities in-house. This can include multi-purpose rooms, gym equipment and even bringing in instructors to do yoga classes and similar.

  1. Convenience to employees who want to engage in that particular type of activity, in that particular time frame (at or around working hours).
  2. Discounted or non-existent cost to employees to use the in-house facilities or classes.
  3. In some cases, employers can track usage of facilities and classes (if there are solutions like tracking key card swipes for instance)
  1. Operational burden and high costs to employers. An in-house gym is extremely costly to build and to maintain. The employer has to pay for the facilities, equipment, maintenance, overhead etc. It is not within core business, which tends to increase the opportunity cost of those resources (including the real estate). This holds true in terms of cost even if the companies outsource the management of the facilities to a third party.
  2. The gym is unavailable to off-site employees, which can cause morale issues or frustration for companies that have multiple locations, or staff working at remote site or at home.
  3. The choice is limited and the available classes and equipment may not suit all employees. On-site fitness centers tend to offer a few standard class options – and companies may not be able to afford additional facilities such as pools or specific classes.
  4. It is harder to extend the benefit to family members, something that can make a huge difference for attraction and retention of talent.
  5. In-house gyms may not be available, or at least will not be convenient, on weekends and holidays or at other times when the office is closed, interrupting employees’ fitness habits.
  6. Exercising at the workplace, around the work colleagues, might not be desirable to a significant group of employees. In particular to those who are not used to exercising already, who can feel pressured or intimidation.

Partnership with a Gym Chain

A third option is to enter into a partnership with a local gym chain. The way this option usually works is that the gyms will offer a discounted, corporate rate to the employees of a particular company.

  1. No direct cost to the employer, as the employees have the access to the discount directly.
  2. There is no operational burden to the employer. Everything is handled between the gyms and the employees who enroll.
  1. Limited options – employees are limited to the chains that employers have a partnership with, and what that particular chains provide in terms of type of facility (and related cost), locations (usually close to the office, but not the employees’ homes) and types of activities.
  2. Limited engagement of employees. This type of benefit is usually not promoted internally, and there is no associate program to encourage the use. A common example here is a link buried somewhere in the companies benefits website. The result is that this option ends up only being used by the employees who already exercise at that particular chain.
  3. Like in-house gyms, it can cause problems for people at remote locations, especially if you have locations in another state where the chain may not have outlets.
  4. The discounts are generally fairly limited 10-20% of the market price – making this still costly for employees.
  5. Similar to the other options above there is not tracking of enrollment and use that can be correlated to actual health and productivity outcomes.

Comparison of corporate wellness solutions

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of the options discussed:

As described above, it is great that companies are looking for solutions that concretely incentivize their employees to have a healthier, more active life. However, the majority of the solutions used today to achieve these goals, present important gaps, and trade-offs that make them ineffective in producing the desired results. In particular, none of these options above can adequately balance reasonable costs to employers and employees, flexibility, no operational burden and data that can actually show the impacts of the benefit.

Moreover, one of the key flaws of these options seems to be their limited ways to engage employees and incentive them to exercise more, in particular, the employees that today do not have a fitness membership. This ranges from what is the actual advantages offered to the employees, to the initiatives in place to promote awareness and incentivize the usage. For instance, programs that help to bring people together to exercise, targeted communication focusing on different exercise options to different demographics etc.

Gympass as a corporate wellness solution

Gympass was designed with these major gaps in mind – to be a solution that any company of any size can use to bridge the gap between the ideal of physical activity bringing positive results and making that ideal a reality. It is significantly more affordable, accessible and flexible exercise option to employees. And this with no operational burden to employers, and with a strong data-driven approach to prove its benefits.

With a single monthly subscription, employees can use any gym they want, at any time they want – including all types of gyms, studios, fitness centers and other physical activity providers that are part of a global network. Employees love the subsidized memberships prices (50% off traditional memberships), the number of options (from large gym chains to boutique studios, near home or work or when traveling) and the flexibility to join or cancel the program at any point in time.

With so many gyms and types of activities, there is bound to be one that is convenient to each employee in each company. As this is as close as possible of what would be the “perfect fitness membership”, this platform is valuable not only to employees who already get exercise but especially to a large population that without this option and benefits would not have a membership and exercise constantly. Gym members are 14 times more likely to meet recommended fitness guidelines – and employees who can choose their own gym membership are more likely to use it

On top of that, Gympass is a turnkey solution that has no overhead for employers, but can still be customized to their needs and to maximize the engagement levels in any company. For example, you can provide rewards for the number of check-ins made in a given month. Employees will feel more like they are being given an opportunity, and more importantly, the choices that matter for each individual, to improve their health.

The day pass system allows gym usage to be tracked – allowing for that data-driven approach –  and can even tell you whether your employee checked in to lift weights, attend a class, get a session with a personal trainer or swim in the pool. Gympass as an impactful, cost-effective and easy-to-manage corporate benefit that attracts and retains talent and increases employee engagement while reducing health costs, turnover and absenteeism.

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