Harsh Shah, 33, used to be surprised when colleagues took to long walks. “I have always been active, even played sports while growing up. But doing cardio was not my cup of tea," says the Mumbai-based assistant manager for marketing at DHL Express.
Shah’s life was about to change, though. His colleagues convinced him to sign up for the annual intra-company Stepathlon event—a 60-day corporate walking challenge where the team that takes the maximum number of steps wins. Within a few weeks, he was walking daily, often taking more than 12,000 steps a day. What helped, says Shah, is that it was a team event and his colleagues were depending on him to stick to the goal.
It has been over two years since he first took part in Stepathlon, but the habit of going for walks daily has stuck.
Organizations are realizing that employee health has a direct impact on productivity. Companies can no longer just tell employees to become fit; they must take active steps to make a healthier lifestyle possible. It can be Zumba, yoga, marathons or sporting events. “Health is often ignored by companies because of the amount of commitment involved. But, over time, we have come to realize that good health is good business," says Sunjoy Dhaawan, vice-president, human resources, DHL Express India.
According to Sreeja Pillai, head of HR at customer loyalty programme firm PAYBACK India, when employees are given the opportunity to be active, they help spread a culture of fitness and well-being at their workplace. “We have earlier had Zumba and yoga classes. But we saw that there were too many drop-outs, because employees had to travel long hours to reach these classes on time. We decided to make it more flexible and put in table tennis tables and gave them access to a badminton court outside the building, which they use more often." The court is usually always in use, with four-five people playing at any point.
For Divya Goswami, senior manager (marketing) at PAYBACK India, the daily commute from her south Delhi house to Gurugram is tiring. But this self-confessed “yoga freak" has never missed a workout. “Being active since childhood has not only made me more vocal but also gave me a chance to bond more quickly with my friends. I am still continuing to live my passion for badminton at my workplace too," says Goswami.
Everyone is a winner
In 2014, DHL Express introduced We Care—a programme which encourages employees to take steps for their physical and mental well-being. An internal company survey found that the sickness rate (the percentage of working days employees called in sick in a year) had dropped from 4% in 2014 to 1.6% in 2018. “A higher sickness rate meant we were missing deadlines, hiring extra or paying overtime to get the work done by others. After We Care, our overtime reduction dropped by almost 40%. Our employee’s health had a direct payout for the company," adds Dhaawan.
Like Shah, others who have taken up sports or health challenges at work have noticed benefits—from weight loss to increased energy, greater bonding with colleagues, even a sense of goal setting, where they set a target for themselves and work hard to achieve it.
“The teams for any sports challenge in the office are usually made in such a way that some of the team members are very active and some are trying to catch up. The stronger members, therefore, always serve as motivation for the others to continue. The social support this provides helps employees, especially those who are just beginning to take their first few steps towards a healthier lifestyle," explains Amit Prakash, chief human resource officer at the consumer goods company Marico.
Along with Stepathlon, Marico holds health challenges like squats, push-ups and planks, as well as staircase and no-sugar challenges. The weekly winners are given sports/fitness-related rewards and recognized on the intranet as well as at their units. The aim was not a one-off healthcare initiative; it was to encourage employees to pick up healthier habits.
Keeping employees motivated for such challenges, however, can be tough. HR teams must continuously reinforce the need for an active lifestyle by sending mailers and holding workshops. If the leadership team participates in similar challenges, employee morale gets a boost.
DHL Express lets employees vote on workout videos posted on its internal platform by other employees. “It is difficult to stick to it at first, but it helps to build a new habit. This ability to focus and plan also starts showing in your work style. I have become calmer and more analytical in goal chasing," adds Shah.
Keeping them motivated
But not all employees are as gung-ho about exercise. Many lack the commitment, while some feel it’s not meant for them.
For some, the idea of staying fit by running or losing weight may not work if such activities happen only once or twice a year and do not result in a lifestyle change. “These are goals that can scare someone who is just starting off. Even a one-off yoga session will impact employees only for an hour, but not lead to a mindset change. Therefore, we try to create personalized and simpler challenges which make better sense for individuals and aim at creating a habit," explains Avinash Saurabh, CEO and founder, Zoojoo.be, a corporate health and wellness platform.
Zoojoo.be organizes challenges for companies, from drinking enough water through the day to taking a break from sitting at the desk and stretching, managing stress, taking the stairs in office, etc. There is a leaderboard employees can see once they log on to the micro-site. The micro-site itself is curated especially for the company. The winner for each month—decided on the basis of accumulated points from each challenge—is given a prize.
Clients include companies such as Unisys, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Mindtree and Tesco.
In the end, however, it is about the individual and whether he/she wants to use the facilities or not. While companies can encourage them to embrace a healthier lifestyle, through sporting events or gamification challenges, it is the employee who has to make it a habit above and beyond office hours.