Why in-house fitness plans are not in demand

A survey conducted found that almost 64 per cent of the Indian workforce does not exercise regularly. (iStockphoto)
A survey conducted found that almost 64 per cent of the Indian workforce does not exercise regularly. (iStockphoto)

Summary

Several companies now offer health and wellness options to their workers, but it’s one-day events and short programmes that are more popular

Yoga? Regular classes are conducted in the office through the week. Running? There’s a run club that meets thrice a week. Meditation? The whole family can join weekly guided meditation sessions. Strength training? There’s a gym in the office or you can join a gym and submit the bill to HR.

No matter what an employee needs for their health and wellness, chances are modern-day India Inc offers it to, or arranges it for them. Cricket? There’s an in-house league. Hiking? At least one big hike is planned every quarter. Healthy food? There are two canteens and a cafe on site to choose from. Doctor? Check. Insurance? Definitely. Health screening? Yes.

Yet, most of the health and wellness programmes don’t find as many takers as organisations would like. Cult Fit’s Enterprise Wellness Survey conducted found that almost 64 per cent of the Indian workforce does not exercise regularly, and while 75 per cent of the companies surveyed aim to have an organization-wide health strategy and action plan, only 0.22 per cent employees in these companies actually go to a fitness facility. The survey, carried out last year between April and June, included 150 corporates across Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, National Capital Region, Pune and Chennai.

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What works, what doesn’t

Yoga, meditation and mindfulness workshops have all had their peak, and it is sports activities such as cricket, football and running that are the most successful initiatives across corporate India. Rajesh Uppal, member of Maruti Suzuki India Limited’s executive board (human resources, IT, safety and digital enterprise), says the activities that can be termed successful at Maruti campuses are sports where collective fun-filled activities are included.

Cult Fit’s head of enterprise business, Arjit Shukla says some of the popular activities among their corporate clientele are guided yoga sessions with experts, nutrition and wellness consultations, Zumba, dancing and fitness fests. “Dancing and Zumba gained popularity among corporates because it is fun, engaging and inclusive due to its varying intensity," says Shukla.

At Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which has a global workforce of more than 600,000 employees and runs a comprehensive in-house fitness programme called ‘Fit4Life’, the most popular event is its annual Fit4Life Corporate Challenge 10k run held at various locations. The fitness programme was created in 2013 by Tata Group chairman N. Chandrasekaran (he was then CEO), a well-known running enthusiast with multiple full marathons to his name. TCS employees track their activities and progress on a dedicated web portal as well as Android and iOS apps. One of the biggest reasons why running and walking are a hit at TCS is because of its Fit2Lead initiative that affords participants the opportunity to meet the organization’s leaders. Earlier, the chance to meet Chandrasekaran used to be a big incentive. Today, TCS is one of the biggest sponsors of running events globally with the software giant a partner at major events such as TCS New York City Marathon, TCS London Marathon, BMW Berlin Marathon and Tata Mumbai Marathon, among others.

Another mega corporate with more than 20,000 employees that has a long-running health programme is Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL). The Healthier U programme focuses on employees’ physical health, nutrition and mental health. The company uses biometrics and data analytics to track and assess physical well-being and health improvement goals. One of HUL’s key mental well-being initiatives is the Mental Health Champion (MHC) programme, where employees are provided a defined structure in which they can extend support to people who are experiencing negative emotions, behaviour or thinking. They have 900 trained “mental health champions" who listen to those dealing with crises and redirect them to the right experts, information and resources. HUL says it has 80 per cent engagement across factories and branches in campaigns and roadshows focusing on physical well-being initiatives, especially nutrition.

Cult Fit’s Shukla says 95 per cent of employees sign up within the first six months for the health and wellness initiatives they run for organisations. Cult works with 1,200 organizations across all major cities with focus on Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai, National Capital Region, Pune and Chennai. “This number can go up or down based on hiring. Usually, by the end of six months of activation of benefits, we are at 95 per cent or higher," he says.

However, that’s not the case with large organisations that run their own programmes. While HUL notices an 80% footfall in campaigns, initiatives and events that are targeted—such as programmes tailored for nutrition, heart health or mental well-being—and run for limited durations, a company spokesperson says that they witness a lower participation in long-term behavioural change programmes that require a commitment of one to three months or more. Long-term change programmes are those aimed at making long-lasting lifestyle changes, such as completing steps targets or making better food choices regularly. Short-term programmes of limited duration are wellness camps or nutrition camps that are held for just a day or two, or a sports league that might run for a couple of weeks. This trend is evident at TCS too where only 30 per cent of the employees were enrolled in Fit4life and only 35 per cent of them were active in 2023. In comparison, even those who are not enrolled in the programme show up for the Fit4Life Run.

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At Maruti, quite like at several other organizations, one of the least successful programmes is the voluntary annual medical check-up, where, says Uppal, the participation rate is low. One of the main reasons for the low uptake of this particular initiative is the fact that all data and information from these check-ups tend to be shared with the employees’ bosses, says a member of Wipro’s leadership team on the condition of anonymity. “I definitely don’t want my boss to access my medical reports. They hold more information than merely my health markers. All that is private information and up to the individual whether or not they want to share it with their bosses and employers," the employee says. “Many of the fitness events, like our Spirit of Wipro Run, take place on a Sunday and that is time away from the family after having hardly spent time with them through the week."

Misplaced priorities

Most organisations create a one-size-fits-all programme where multiple levels of personal fitness and propensity to use a particular category of formats are missed, says Shukla, explaining the low success rates of fitness and health initiatives in India Inc. “Availability of a centre close to the office or home is important to drive regular usage," he adds.

Uppal feels many employees pass on these initiatives due to skewed work-life balance, misplaced priorities and excessive social media usage instead of opting for the outdoors and physical activity. “Stress might also be taking a toll on most individuals, especially due to socio-economic factors such as rising cost of living," reasons Uppal.

Employees who nominate themselves for behavioural change programmes related to health and wellness often fail to sustain them in the long run due to busy schedules and lack of motivation and time. For junior employees, finding time outside their professional and personal commitments can be a challenge, admits a TCS spokesperson. Other common reasons that keep people away from exercise and health offerings are long commutes, personal and professional commitments, stress and depression.

“The problem lies in understanding what health means. It is often misunderstood, especially when we are young. People adopt healthy behaviours when they are sick, like we witnessed during the pandemic. As soon as life returned to normal people were back to old habits wherein they paid less heed to healthy lifestyle choices," notes the HUL spokesperson.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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