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The Business Payoff of Exercise

Employers are beginning to understand the positive impact that employee wellbeing has on business. Greater worker engagement, increased productivity, fewer sick days, greater job satisfaction, increased worker concentration and reduced turnover all affect the bottom line.
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By Joe Moore, President & CEO, International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA); and Kenneth Thorpe, Ph.D., Chairman, Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), Robert W. Woodruff Professor and Chair, Department of Health Policy & Management, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University

Employers are beginning to understand the positive impact that employee wellbeing has on business. And it's not just healthcare savings they're realizing. Greater worker engagement, increased productivity, fewer sick days, greater job satisfaction, increased worker concentration, easier recruitment, and reduced turnover all affect the bottom line.

As forward-thinking employers turn their attention to the total wellbeing of their employees, there are a few things that America's businesses need to know about the ROI of regular exercise and movement in the workplace. After all, when workers exercise, employers reap the rewards.

Take job performance as a prime example. When workers exercise three times a week for 30 minutes or more, it's 15 percent more likely that their job performance will be higher. And research suggests that when they exercise during regular work hours, its impact on performance may be even greater. In fact, one study found that when employees exercise during the workday, their mood and performance improves, along with their concentration, work relationships and resilience to stress.

The significant boost that exercise gives to employee engagement is especially important. All told, research shows that employee engagement helps business. In fact, employees who are most engaged (top quartile) have 37 percent lower absenteeism, 21 percent higher productivity, and 22 percent higher profitability when compared to those least engaged (bottom quartile), Gallup research has found.

Recognizing the business importance of motion in the workplace, C-suite executives across the country are signing onto the CEO Pledge for Physical Activity--a national campaign calling on every CEO in America to recognize physical activity as an important driver of employee health and business performance. They recognize that creating a culture of physical activity and wellness in the workplace requires their support.

Take for example, the commitment to wellbeing of the global cosmetics company Mary Kay Inc., a signer of the CEO Pledge. Not only does Mary Kay promote the wellbeing of women in greater society by sponsoring programs that help them overcome cancer and domestic violence, but it has shown a strong commitment to a comprehensive workplace wellbeing program as well. Along with company initiatives to improve employee health and wellbeing, Mary Kay has onsite fitness facilities, onsite health clinics, blood pressure kiosks, healthy restaurant options, and a smoking cessation program. Mary Kay also has a strong team of Global Wellness Ambassadors, which includes their CEO, to help encourage and promote a culture of wellbeing throughout Mary Kay's global locations.

Other organizations are leading the way as well. Several years ago, the owner of Northstar Ceramics brought an elliptical machine into its Dallas warehouse. After seeing him use it for one week, employees became inspired and tried it too. In response, the company built a dedicated exercise area in the middle of the warehouse and started bringing in a personal trainer to work with employees on site. Now, under new ownership and a new company name--StyleAccess--the corporate commitment to employee wellbeing continues.

From reducing the risk of worker burnout and depression, to enhancing self-efficacy and how workers feel about their ability to juggle the work-life balance, promoting regular exercise in the workplace yields rewards all around.

In an era when American businesses are struggling under the unrelenting demands that today's competitive economy puts on employee and corporate energy, incorporating regular movement and exercise into the workday really should be a business imperative.

Ultimately, a company's employees are its most valuable asset. When they thrive, so does the bottom line.