It’s a Stretch (In a Good Way) to Say Exercise Can Deliver Benefits | WorldatWork (2024)

Moderate exercise can curb worker burnout, according to new research from the University of Michigan’s Physical Activity & Health Laboratory. So, how can total rewards professionals encourage their organization’s workforce to get moving?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 2.5 hours of exercise per week, but about 80% of the population falls short of that goal, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The University of Michigan researchers surveyed 520 full-time workers about their physical activity and professional performance. The data revealed moderately active workers feel less emotionally exhausted and more personally satisfied during the workday than their less active peers. According to the study, emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment are two of three factors (the other being depersonalization) that drive workforce burnout, which results in reduced productivity and increased employee turnover that cut into an organization’s bottom line.

Worker inactivity also steeply drives up healthcare costs, to the tune of $117 billion per year, and increases the risk of premature death by 10%.

“The risk of physical inactivity is well-documented,” said Michele Marenus, a research scientist at Personify Health, adjunct faculty member at George Mason University and member of the University of Michigan research team. “Sedentary lifestyles are associated with significant adverse health effects, both physical and mental.”

COVID-Era Impacts

In the post-COVID-19 era, Americans are more likely to pay attention to both their physical and mental health, Marenus said.

“Employers across the board are trying to provide both time and resources to employees to take care of themselves,” she said.

However, post-pandemic workplace shifts have had a mixed impact on worker mobility, according to experts.

Remote work and hybrid models have led some workers to replace their commute time with exercise or some sort of physical activity, Marenus said. But those who are not proactive about adding exercise into their schedule have seen activity levels drop, said Jen Fisher, an author and the former chief well-being officer and human sustainability leader at Deloitte.

Remote workers experience less incidental exercise because they generally are not moving around an office space, where they might walk to meetings or to a colleague’s desk. In addition, home office setups and increased screen time often lead to more sedentary behavior, while blurred work-life boundaries can make it difficult to take activity breaks, Fisher added.

Use Total Rewards to Boost Worker Mobility

When workers don’t stay active, their risk for chronic health conditions, disrupted sleep patterns, emotional exhaustion and burnout all increase, Fisher said.

For organizations, this inactivity translates to increased risks for lower productivity, increased costs, “quiet quitting,” poor decision-making, reduced creativity and innovation, negative impacts on team dynamics and collaboration, and increased mental health issues, Fisher continued.

Incorporating benefits aimed at increasing worker activity into total rewards packages can both mitigate these risks and help organizations attract and retain talent, especially health-conscious individuals, she said.

Incorporating benefits aimed at increasing worker activity intototal rewards packagescan both mitigate these [physical and organizational] risks and help organizations attract and retain talent.

Fisher shared several ways organizations can support worker health, including:

  • Providing walking or standing desks
  • Offering onsite workout facilities
  • Allowing flexible schedules to accommodate exercise
  • Encouraging “walking meetings”
  • Organizing team-building activities centered on physical activity
  • Providing ergonomic assessments and equipment for home offices
  • Subsidizing gym memberships
  • Offering fitness classes or challenges
  • Integrating wellness apps into the organization’s digital ecosystem

“The goal is to establish sustainable, moderate physical activity routines to alleviate symptoms of burnout,” Fisher said. “Solutions should be tailored to different work environments and employee preferences, with ongoing evaluation and adjustment to ensure effectiveness.”

Gamification can be a key, added Marenus.

“Provide a platform with an incentivized game structure that rewards employees for engaging in health behaviors,” Marenus said. “These kinds of workplace wellness platforms and programs not only signal to the employee that the employer is willing to dedicate resources to health and wellbeing, but it also helps them develop healthy habits while gaining a reward.”

Total rewards professionals can also consider offering lifestyle savings accounts to help employees pay for gym memberships, dance lessons, fitness classes, at-home exercise equipment and more. With such a program, the employer can tailor the list of purchases eligible for reimbursem*nt to meet the needs of their people.

Exploring the four-day work week could also allow workers more time for personal activities and exercise, Fisher said.

“People who engage in exercise tend to have improved mental and physical outcomes,” Marenus said. “Employers that provide opportunities for employees to take care of themselves see happier, healthier and more productive employees.”

Editor’s Note: Additional Content

For more information and resources related to this article, see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics:

  • Employee Experience
  • Organizational Performance
  • Well-Being
  • Workforce Engagement
It’s a Stretch (In a Good Way) to Say Exercise Can Deliver Benefits | WorldatWork (2024)


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