Fitness Tips for Becoming an ‘Organization in Motion’

By SHRM Online staff Jun 15, 2012
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As workplace stress levels continue to rise, new research finds that one- to two-minute “motion breaks” every 30 minutes throughout the day can create a more productive and engaged workplace.

“Organizations in MOTION” is an experiment in workplace wellness centered around strategic movement. A prototype program, created by Wellness & Prevention Inc., a Johnson & Johnson business, was conducted at New Balance, an athletic shoe company headquartered in Boston. The aim was to study the impact of small and frequent amounts of physical activity on employees’ energy levels, cognition and engagement throughout the day.

Support provided to employees included a program toolkit, biweekly rally calls, and daily e-mail tips offering ideas and suggestions for frequent and creative workplace movement. In addition, New Balance solicited volunteer “movement champions” who assessed participation and encouraged movement on all levels. This included incorporating fitness classes into the workday, designing fun and engaging employee competitions, and encouraging leadership to “walk the talk” and reassure employees that they had permission to move—at their desks, on calls and in meetings.

“In order to combat the critical employee health and organizational issues associated with today’s corporate world, business leaders should focus on improving workplace wellness by focusing on the body’s physiological and movement needs,” said Organizations in MOTION designer Jack Groppel, Ph.D., a sports scientist and vice president of applied science and performance training at Wellness & Prevention.

“Sitting in one position for too long—which is how the majority of the business professionals spend their time—leads to impaired blood circulation, causing a decrease in energy levels and metabolism. In turn, low energy levels (e.g., decreased alertness, pessimism, irritability, disengagement) have a negative impact on employee health, productivity and performance, which can ultimately have an effect on a business’s bottom line,” Groppel noted.

Successful Results

After completion of the initial pilot program, New Balance offered Organizations in MOTION to approximately 750 employees in its corporate offices in Boston and Lawrence, Mass. Pre- and post-surveys assessed employees’ energy levels at the start of the program and then again after 90 days.

Findings released in May 2012 support the notion that the incorporation of strategic movement throughout the workday contributes positively to increased energy levels and engagement. Fifty-three percent of survey respondents said they increased their level of physical activity and movement at work, and 89 percent of those respondents said they are likely to continue with the changes they have made.

After three months, associates reported an overall increase in energy levels. In particular, 37 percent reported high levels in the middle of the day—an 11 percent increase over the course of the program. Additionally, 42 percent of respondents reported increased engagement and focus at work since starting the Organizations in MOTION program.

When associates were asked how they felt about work, virtually all measures increased significantly after 90 days in the program. Of note, the largest increases were seen for statements such as “I am enthusiastic about my job,” “I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose,” “My job inspires me,” “In the morning, I feel like going to work,” “At my work, I feel bursting with energy” and “At my job, I feel strong and vigorous.”

“New Balance is proud to have a strong culture built on teamwork, creativity and innovation,” said Joe Preston, executive vice president for global footwear product and marketing. “This program enhanced our workplace environment by engaging our associates to collaborate in new ways to increase their energy and focus levels.”

Keeping Workers in Motion

Below are simple steps that sports scientist Jack Groppel recommends to get organizations moving.

  • Encourage leadership from the top down.Put top- and line-level leadership in place to support initiatives. For example, appoint “champions” at various levels to encourage participation.
  • Encourage frequency.Employees should never go more than 30 minutes without moving. Ask employees to set half-hour alarms at their desks and rally colleagues to participate.
  • Eliminate “permission” to move. When in meetings, encourage employees to get up, stretch and move around the room while staying connected to the meeting at hand.

When in meetings:

  • For an hourlong meeting, call for a one- to two-minute movement exercise at the half hour.
  • Call “walking meetings,” with two to four people. (If people need to write things down, they should stop and write their notes, then continue to walk.)

For employees working at desks:

  • Provide a standing desk or balance ball chairs so employees can move up and down.
  • Provide wireless headsets so employees can walk while on the phone.
  • Encourage personal contact rather than e-mails.

For breaks:

  • Every 90 minutes, encourage employees to disengage from what they have been doing.
  • Walk two to three flights of stairs; go to the washroom on a different floor.
  • Go outsideand walk briskly.

Source: Wellness & Prevention Inc.


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