An Interesting Link: Productivity At Work and Employee Fitness (In 2 Parts)

Part 1: Physical Fitness

Today’s work environment is much more challenging than ever before. The challenge is undoubtedly multi-factorial. Many of these are external – mostly related to increasing complex, and difficult to fathom uncertainties and surprises in the overall business environment. Nevertheless, its sizeable part keeps generating from within the respective organizations.

These emanate from a wide variety factors, such as changes at the senior management levels or in the key corporate policies of an organization. But more importantly, changing aspirations and outlook of the new generation professionals, in the midst of all complexities of life, often play a catalytic role.

Managing changes in VUCA world:

The Corporate leadership of more and more business organizations, including pharma is fast realizing a hard fact. They are discerning, if the internal challenges are addressed with a systematic short, medium and long-term approaches, it would be possible to navigate through, with a greater degree of success than otherwise, in this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA)) world.

Scientific evidence suggests, encouraging employee fitness in this situation with a comprehensive plan, could considerably help boosting employee productivity to effectively respond to business challenges. I shall discuss this emerging scenario in two successive articles. The Part 1 will dwell on the impact of ‘Physical Fitness’ on employee productivity, and the Part 2 will argue on the relevance of ‘Mental Fitness” in achieving the same.

Working on ‘employee engagement’, including fitness:

To successfully cruise through this tough headwind, many corporate houses are working hard on various ‘employee engagement’ initiatives, to excel in creating the best possible ‘shareholder value’. These cover various hard and soft skills imparted through regular training sessions, in tandem with actively encouraging employee fitness programs at the corporate level, seriously.

There are plenty of reasons for doing so. For example, by keeping the employees away from various non-infectious chronic (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, or enabling them to manage these conditions better, through fitness initiatives, the employers derive some very tangible benefits, as well. These come, over and above offering a sense of wellness to employees – in terms of improvement of per employee productivity.

Proven benefits of fitness initiatives now visible across the world:

To achieve this goal, increasing number of corporate houses around the world of all sizes, are ensuring employee fitness by providing facilities of exercise, even in the workplace.

A Brookings Institute study, titled, ‘Exercise Increases Productivity’ found that ‘regular exercise at work helps increase employees’ happiness and overall productivity in the workplace.’ In a randomized controlled trial, researchers from the University of Georgia concluded that even low to moderate daily exercise can make employees feel more energized within a few weeks. Whereas, the effect of exercise on the mood is immediate.

Another research article, published in the American Journal of Management indicated: ‘If fitness could be increased through some type of fitness program, there would be a noticeable increase in productivity.’

Yet another research publication on the subject commented: “There are clear implications not only for employee wellbeing, but also for competitive advantage and motivation by increasing opportunities for exercising at work.”

Fitness also impacts the way one thinks:

Stating that: ‘Exercise has also been shown to elevate mood, which has serious implications for workplace performance,” the article titled “Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job”, published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on October 03, 2014 discussed another interesting point.

It wrote, when we think about the value of exercise, we tend to focus on the physical benefits, such as lower blood pressure, a healthier heart, a more attractive physique. Besides this fact, there are other compelling evidence suggesting that there is another, more immediate benefit of regular exercise: its impact on the way we think.

Elaborating the point, the author said: Studies indicate that our mental firepower is directly linked to our physical regimen. And nowhere are the implications more relevant than our performance at work, providing the following cognitive benefits into an employee routine at the work place:

  • Improved concentration
  • Sharper memory
  • Faster learning
  • Prolonged mental stamina
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Lower stress

In line with the Brooking Institute study, this article also reiterates that exercise has shown to elevate mood, which has serious implications for workplace performance. On the other hand, feeling irritable is not just an inconvenience. It can directly influence the degree to which one is successful.

Even the results of the Leeds Metropolitan University study show that exercise during regular work hours may boost performance. It also found: “On days when employees visited the gym, their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues. Just as important: They went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.”

The most common barrier:

What prevents us from exercising more often? The most common answer to this important question would probably be: ‘I don’t have the time.’ This answer could well be quite legitimate too. However, it also means that fitness programs still assume a low priority to many, despite its scientifically proven work and personal benefits, as the studies indicate.

Conclusion:

Various research studies, including the HBR article, have concluded that the cognitive benefits of exercise resulting significant improvement in employee productivity, can’t be wished away, any longer.  Which is why the research studies establishing the importance of employee fitness to boost their productivity in the workplace, are so compelling.

There is hardly any scope of doubt now that: “Exercise enables us to soak in more information, work more efficiently, and be more productive.”

This scientifically proven narrative now deserves to be practiced at a much wider scale by Indian business organizations. As an effective tool to boost employee productivity, they may wish to increasingly encourage fitness programs at the workplace. Not very strange, though, corporate physical fitness centers – on-site or outsourced, are not too common, just yet, perhaps more within the Indian pharma industry.

When actively encouraged by, particularly the pharma leadership in India, a significant value addition may take place on their ongoing initiatives for improving the much-sought after employee productivity in the workplace, in a win-win way.

By: Tapan J. Ray 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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