Article by Hannah Lanel, Founder, The Fore
“Should exercise be compulsory at work?” The BBC asked in a provocative headline.
Exercising ‘on the clock’ is not exactly a groundbreaking idea. China recently brought back mandatory exercise in state-owned companies, initiatives first introduced back in the 1950’s! Although perhaps a step too far for UK businesses, the potential impact of exercise on both team building and individual productivity is hard to ignore. But is it really about making exercise compulsory? Or should businesses focus on making it compelling? Plus, is exercise alone enough to benefit the bottom line, or are they falling short of the mark in believing that the answers can be found within a gym?
In June of this year, after a decade in the City, I founded The Fore. A two-floor, 5,000-square-foot boutique studio in Kings Cross, that goes beyond fitness. At the root of its concept lies an integrated solution that aims to enable everyone to find their own definition of wellness. We believe that wellness is a result of an alignment of the four pillars of health: physical, emotional, social and intellectual and offer access to personal training, group fitness classes, alternative therapies, and a luxurious shared working space with an onsite café and smoothie bar.
It’s an honest and comprehensive approach that could easily be adopted by progressive businesses who understand that workplace ‘wellness’ cannot be achieved by waving a magic wand, or flipping an exercise switch; Only programmes that are bespoke, delivered with integrity and driven by management, are successful. If businesses aren’t willing to create a culture of community and respect, there’s little point in paying lip-service (or a large amount of the operating budget) to a trend.
Building More than Biceps
The benefits of exercise are well documented. Studies, at Bristol University found that employees who exercised at work were “more productive, happy, efficient and calm”, with post-sweat results proven to include increased energy, positivity and focus. A similar study by Harvard, endorsed the idea that exercise benefits us more than physically, finding evidence that reduced cortisol, increased endorphins and a proliferation of neurons due to physical activity, enhanced creativity, boosted brain power, and positively impacted employee’s decision-making, and clarity. Additionally, exercise during working hours helps cut through convenient excuses about lack of time and companies that can tailor their programmes to the interests of their staff make fitness an altogether more compelling proposition.
Encouraging a team to work-out together is the only way a business can tackle the ‘loneliness epidemic’ resulting from their remote workforce. At The Fore, we regularly create bespoke classes for companies looking to re-build teams that have been fractured by remote working, connecting isolated employees with the company or their co-workers. Group exercise can quickly foster healthy, creative and collaborative relationships both inside and outside of the formal work setting. It encourages accountability to themselves and others, easing their day-to-day interactions inside the gym, and the office.
Reasons More Powerful than Excuses
For many companies, workplace wellness ends here. The fitness box ticked, they resolutely ignore other dimensions of wellbeing. Yet, as mental health issues account for around 50% of absences, isn’t it time to face facts and admit that genuine workplace wellness will not be achieved merely by encouraging employees to downward dog together.
Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity, found that 60 percent of workers would feel more motivated if their employer took action to support their mental wellbeing and implemented social or community initiatives at work. Solutions can be as simple as providing daily breakfasts. Encouraging staff to take a break, socialise and begin their day in a relaxed and collegiate manner. If movement is to be made mandatory, it must be mentally as well as physically beneficial. Employees should be encouraged to take breaks simply for a moment’s peace, away from inbox anxiety and screen glare. If change really is as good as a rest, staff could combat the distraction and chaos of the office or interminable boredom of team meetings by simply moving to a relaxed but professional external setting.
A few, forward-thinking businesses are breaking down the barriers to emotional wellbeing by providing onsite therapists and embracing a new wave of therapies such as Breath Therapy and Vibrational Healing to treat stress, anxiety and depression. But it shouldn’t stop there. As inherently curious creatures, we need learning and exploration, thriving on a steady acquisition of new skills. It’s not about CPD, it’s about giving staff the opportunity to engage in creative and mentally-stimulating activities. Our carefully curated roster of events has been designed with the corporate community of Kings Cross in mind. Part of the employee benefits package or wellness programme, they cover everything from leadership to letter writing. Often the subject is secondary to the experience. A platform for learning, plus avenue for sharing knowledge and skills with others, helps build the personal resources necessary for employees to process change and cope with every-day stress, whilst keeping the mind sharp and investing a greater sense of fulfilment in the individual.
This isn’t about cosseting your employees or attempting to eradicate every stress that comes their way, but equally it’s not about adding more stress, or expectation from mandatory activities. Creating a framework that empowers employees with the space and the tools to define what wellbeing means to them is key. Encouraging regular breaks, offering access to mental and physical fitness, providing healthy snacks, nurturing creativity and fostering connections will all enable employees to show up at the office each day in the best possible shape – both physically and mentally – to tackle the job at hand.
About the author
Hannah Lanel is the Founder of The Fore.
The Fore is a new multi-functional space in Kings Cross offering fitness, a co-working area and access to a wellness treatment spa room with various massage, acupuncture and other alternative therapies to enjoy. Driven by a desire to make fitness universally accessible, The Fore offers access to every day wellness across all four elements of human health – the physical, emotional, social and intellectual.