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Small steps add up in workplace fitness efforts

BY Susan Shalhoub

6/18/2018
Photo/Dreamstime.com
Photo/Dreamstime.com
Not every workplace can have a gym, but more companies are striving to get employees to find opportunities for exercise during the work day.

Evolve Fitness, which now sits outside of the Framingham Technology Park, has told the city it wants to move into a smaller building inside the park. The gym’s owners, Westchester Associates, feel the gym would do well and would be used by those who work at large companies in the park, such as Sanofi Genzyme, Staples and Bose.
Full-fledged gym workouts, such as group classes in spinning, cardio or weightlifting are great before or after work, or even during breaks in the day. They benefit companies and their employees in different ways; and when fitness activities are convenient for them, it’s all the better.
Getting people up and moving at work — or in the case of the gym, near work — just makes sense.
But do employees or companies necessarily need to have an “all or nothing” view on getting active?

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workplace wellness programs with a fitness focus increase morale, lower absenteeism and improve productivity. And with many of us spending upwards of eight hours at work every day, it just makes sense for company leadership to promote health where it can make an impact, the CDC says on its website.
“Worksites provide a unique setting to promote practices that can significantly increase physically active employees,” the agency says.
In other words, workplaces hold a lot of promise in terms of getting people to move more.
Ideal workplace fitness programs, the CDC said, are multifaceted, with policies in place, physical access to fitness opportunities established, social-support programs set up, and demonstrated support from management.
However, said Unum Assistant Vice President of Global Wellbeing and Health Laurie Mitchell, there are creative ways to design and implement those program areas — in large and small ways — and a broad perspective helps.
“It’s not just about going to the gym. It’s about movement,” she said. “It’s an important concept.”
Though the insurance group, with offices in Worcester, has an on-site fitness center with group classes, a treadmill, cardio and strength-training equipment, it knows that may not engage everyone. Its leadership realizes that there are a lot of levels of fitness, and that the message that fitness is important needs to reach a lot of people, and present realistic goals for all levels — even for those who are sedentary.
Unum strives to get its nearly 10,000 employees up and around as much as possible. All campuses offer employee-led wellness committees, tasked with establishing programs for that campus, tailored for that location, said Mitchell, which allows for better impact as its better tailored for that corporate culture. Employee engagement is the first priority in a workplace fitness effort, she said.
“I think you have to have a nice blend of [messaging, supports] as we have all ages in our workforce. It’s really how messages get delivered and how engagement platforms are delivered.”
For example, she said, some employees may prefer digital resources to track their fitness journeys, making use of telephonic coaching or online Couch-to-5K-type of programs. Others may visit the fitness center on their own or make use of the nurse on staff that is available to coach or help employee.
Work groups are also organized for charity runs, walks and cycling events, for those who may be more motivated with a cause that will benefit from their activity. Offering a range of activities raises chances they will resonate with workers.
Promoting fitness at work can be as easy as providing walking workstations and standing desks, as Unum is doing across campuses. But it can also mean more simple ways to get employees mobile.
In Worcester — where Unum has 500 employees — they’ve just set up a cornhole game in the building, Mitchell said. It’s a way to get employees walking, standing and pitching, taking a break from their computer screens and participating in some friendly, casual competition.

Bob Caron is an executive coach and training specialist with Body Therapeutics, on Shore Drive in Worcester, as well as an assistant professor of health sciences, and human services and rehabilitation studies at Assumption College.
Though it may seem counter-productive to take a 10-minute walk at intervals throughout the workday, “We are more productive when we have a rhythm in our workday, when we strengthen and release,” he said.
“When we do one meeting after the next … one email after another … quality [of our work] is less, productivity is impacted,” Caron said.
Body Therapeutics, of which he is a founder, offers corporate wellness services with an integrated, holistic focus. Caron has a background in leadership training with a focus on mind-body integration. A workplace wellness program might involve 30 minutes consisting of a chair massage, then a meditation session, then walk as a break in the workday, he said, to increase productivity and put other benefits, like stress reduction, into motion.
“Preventing turnover, having better relationships between employees … there are so many intangibles that it’s tough to measure,” said Caron.

It doesn’t need to be an hour running on a treadmill, in other words, said Mitchell. Small steps in workplace activity — to get up and move — is the goal. “That thinking [that it has to be a bigger workout] can get in people’s way of doing anything,” she said. “Just do something.”
Spencer-based FLEXcon apparently agrees.
The company won a Silver Worksite Wellness program award from WorkWell Massachusetts, a nonprofit that works to promote healthier lifestyles via workplaces, last year. The summary it provided to the group says that making fitness fun — like Unum’s cornhole activity — is a big part of getting employee buy-in.
“FLEXcon’s wellness program is unique in how we promote the message of health and wellbeing,” it states. “Although we have seminars that are serious in nature, we also do a lot of fun activities. The fun stuff seems to slip under employees’ radars. Instead of them thinking of the activities as something they should be doing it ends up being something they want to be doing because it’s fun AND they are learning, moving, de-stressing, etc., without feeling like it’s work … everyone LOVES to laugh and have a good time.”