Workout class

Active spaces: the future of workplace workouts

An ever-growing number of senior leaders are recognising health and wellbeing as a top business priority: 61% of UK businesses said that employee wellbeing was on their agenda for 2019, up from 55% in 2018 [1]. Our CEO recently gave insight on why, speaking about the strong links between active employees and the bottom line.

However, according to the CIPD, just two-fifths of organisations in the UK have a standalone wellbeing strategy in place and a similar number take a more reactive as opposed to a proactive approach. Shockingly, one in six aren’t doing anything to improve employee wellbeing.

Promoting good physical wellbeing

When it comes to physical wellbeing, our most recent Wellbeing Index found that one in five employees think support from their employer is below average or very poor, and a further 43% say it’s just ‘average’.

Physical activity plays an important role in contributing to wellbeing and should be taken into consideration when forming your overall wellbeing strategy. Not only does exercise improve the physical health of your workforce, but it has strong links with good mental health.

These days it’s not all about having a large corporate gym to provide staff with easy access to exercise facilities. The future of workplace fitness is changing and the companies leading the way are looking to more dynamic solutions. Finding new ways to provide access to fitness is key to improve happiness, productivity and overall wellbeing.

Innovating access to fitness

We often see larger organisations offering in-house gym facilities to their employees. Whilst this is an ideal solution to improve physical wellbeing across the workforce, it’s unrealistic for many businesses.

Various companies are investing in personal trainers who are experienced in delivering classes to groups of staff, which could be yoga, dance or even high intensity cardio. Such classes are suitable for companies of all sizes as they don’t always require a fully equipped gym facility.

To ensure they can meet this demand, companies are starting to look at how spaces in the office can be used more innovatively. These multipurpose spaces could be meeting rooms or empty areas within the office that can easily be transformed and used for health and wellbeing initiatives.

With 47% of employees saying they don’t have access to any form of physical activity provision or facilities at work, a transformable active space within the office could be an affordable solution to get more businesses supporting the physical wellbeing of their workforce.

The ‘active space’

An active space is an ideal solution for workplaces of all sizes to incorporate a whole of workforce fitness initiative.

Simply having a flexible room or space within the office that can be used for anything from lunchtime fitness classes to standing meetings gives employees the option and opportunity to be more active.

One of the ways organisations are starting to adopt this trend is through incorporating non-fixed spaces. This could be through standing desks, movable desk and walls or multipurpose areas – providing a space that’s truly flexible to encourage and enable more movement and activity.

Sedentary lifestyle

Whilst there are many ways to provide employees with access to fitness, it’s important to recognise that regular movement throughout the day is also important to physical wellbeing.

The risks of a sedentary lifestyle are a growing concern for office workers, who spend much of their day sat at their desks. There’s evidence to suggest that exercising outside of working hours has no effect on the detrimental effects of sedentary behaviour, so it’s equally important for businesses to encourage employees to be more active throughout the working day.

As many as 61% of people are worried or very worried about the physical effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Only 12% are proactively taking steps to reduce sedentary time and just 2 in 5 are ‘somewhat motivated’ to make a change, which poses the question, why aren’t we doing more given we know the risks?

It seems there is a lack of responsibility, rather than a lack of awareness when it comes to physical activity, providing an opportunity for businesses to step up and help employees to overcome to barriers.

Overcoming the barriers to exercise

Whilst employees may be aware of the health benefits of physical activity, many still struggle to achieve the NHS recommended guidelines. Our Wellbeing Index pinpointed a lack of time as the biggest barrier.

This is where businesses have the biggest opportunity to support people with their physical wellbeing — providing employees with a range of fitness options means employers can break down the main barrier and help people build exercise into their working day.

When it comes to the reducing sedentary hours, a recent study found that taking short breaks (one to two minutes every half hour) can reduce time spent sitting at work by 15 to 66 minutes per day more than taking long breaks (two 15‐minute breaks per workday) [2]. These valuable extra minutes of physical activity mean healthier employees and great organisational benefits.

Business benefits of exercise

There are lots of other added health benefits to providing employees with access to fitness facilities. Exercise also supports mental wellbeing and can help to alleviate stress, which can lead to burnout if not dealt with, causing low morale and productivity across the business.

Physical activity can also give an added boost to employee engagement, it can lower absenteeism and presenteeism rates and even improve recruitment and retention. Staff are also more likely to sleep better and have more energy throughout the day.

One study found that physical activity programmes at work reduce absenteeism by up to 20% and physically active workers take 27% fewer sick days [3]. HR professionals know this: almost three quarters surveyed in our most recent Wellbeing Index (74%) agree that physical activity reduces absenteeism.

The true cost of non-investment

Almost half of UK businesses (44%) aren’t considering investing in physical activity provision, but growing evidence shows that physical wellbeing is something most businesses can’t afford to ignore.

The government states that in 2016/17, 1.3 million workers suffered from work-related ill-health, adding up to 25.7 million working days lost. This has been estimated to cost £522 per employee and as much as £32 billion per year for UK organisations.

Employees themselves are calling out for support: 67% of employees believe it’s an employer’s responsibility to support their physical wellbeing.

However, when considering any health and wellbeing solution it’s important to remember that there’s no one size fits all – especially when it comes to a fitness initiative.

Next steps

Not all employees will want the same things so you may need to offer your workforce choices through a variety of fitness options. You should never make assumptions — you need to understand the needs of your people by carrying out surveys or focus groups.

It’s also important to recognise that behaviour change is difficult and doesn’t happen overnight. By understanding the needs of your business, you are empowering your employees to make decisions by providing them with a solution that best meets their requirements. As a result, your employees will be much more likely to participate.

Once you’re ready to roll out an initiative, you need to be prepared to continually gather feedback to ensure its success. This means you can regularly evaluate whether what you are offering is the right solution and that it still meets the needs of the organisation. Periodical assessment is paramount to assess efficiency and effectiveness in delivering the goals that were established.

Get in touch to find out how Westfield Health can support you with active space solutions and corporate gym management.


[1] CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Report 2019

[2] IHES, Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work, 2018

[3] DNAfit, The true cost of absenteeism for your business, 2019

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