Including a corporate fitness center in your menu of employee wellness benefits is worth considering. It takes away a few common excuses people use for not exercising by being convenient and low or no cost for employees to use. But if you think that simply putting a fitness center into your office space is a key answer to lowering your health care costs, you’re mistaken. And, if lowering your health care costs is your primary motivator for funding a corporate fitness center, you may want to reconsider that position because generating ROI figures specific to your onsite fitness program is almost impossible.
If you're still with me because you think a corporate fitness center is on the list of the right things to do to help your employees be well, then consider the myths below that may hold back the success of your worksite fitness initiatives.
#1: If we build it, they will come.
No, friends, “they” won’t. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that just under 22% of adults age 18 and older self-report meeting the physical activity guidelines. Because that data is self-reported, it’s probably inflated. If this snapshot is representative of your workforce (and it probably is), then your employees aren’t as active as they should be for optimal health. But simply putting a fitness center in your building won't automatically make inactive employees start exercising. Solely dedicating a space and putting some equipment in, is no guarantee that it won't quickly become a ghost town.
One key to making your fitness center more effective is providing engaging and qualified staff to both manage the center, AND provide key services/support for employees. Without fitness center staff, you are building a corporate fitness center for the 15-20% of your workforce who are already regular exercisers. That said, if you built your corporate fitness center to be a nice amenity and you don’t really care if it’s being used, then carry on. But, if you’re truly interested in helping people adopt physical activity into their lives, consider getting the right staff in there to pull your fence sitters (“Maybe I’ll try it Monday”) off the fence and into the fitness center.
#2: If we can find the right carrot, more employees will participate.
One manager’s “carrot” is another employee’s “stick”. A lack of employee engagement can’t be fixed with HSA money or t-shirts. It’s likely that your employees aren’t participating for reasons much deeper than the extrinsic rewards you’re willing to lay at their feet.
An individual’s ability to be well goes WAY beyond biometric screenings and an HRA. Research tells us that zip code does more to determine our health than our genes. Employers have zero control over both of those. So, while you’re designing the perfect incentive strategy to get your employees to participate in the annual wellness program, they’re wondering how to keep food on the table and how pay their bills. They're worrying about junior's performance at school and they pray daily that he gets to and from school safely. If that isn't enough to have on their plate, they’re suffering the weight of serious stress brought on by working more than one job.
In the midst of all of the stress of their personal lives, there isn't a consideration of using your corporate fitness center. Worse yet, every Fall, when you tell them the money that’s at stake if they don’t successfully complete elements X, Y, and Z of your wellness program, they only feel more burden and frankly a necessity to participate in the drudgery that is your wellness program. They NEED those HSA dollars so they’ll scrape by figuring out a way to complete all of the wellness program components. And they’ll resent you all the way. There’s nothing healthy about any of that.
#3: If we ask employees what they need, they’ll put forward ridiculous suggestions we can’t use (so we don’t’ ask).
I can’t say this is 100% false. Case in point, we have one client who has a few employees who annually ask for a pool at work via our satisfaction survey. The client is never going to act on that request. But, it would be equally ridiculous to assume that all feedback is as myopic as this.
If you subscribe to the ideology that healthy and happy employees are the core of your successful business, then you value what your teams have to say. Sometimes, their needs for improved health shows up in their data, so you don't even have to ask. In other cases, they have fabulous ideas for elevating your organization that would never otherwise have made it to the surface if you didn’t ask.
We make it a habit to solicit feedback from fitness center members, and in many cases, they've asked for services that we were able to implement to the benefit of all of the members. For example, in response to a member request, we now routinely have a large bottle of sunscreen available for members who want to run/walk outside. We also started building a library of grab-n-go workouts on laminated cards that members could use to get through a quick session without a scheduled appointment with a trainer. Eventually, we built those into on-the-road kits for employees who traveled; they could check out a travel kit before their trip and return it when they got back to the office. You could argue that these ideas should have been on our radar, but they weren't and we never would have met these needs if we hadn't asked for feedback.
#4: If our fitness center isn’t being used we need to change our management partner.
Maybe your fitness center is struggling because of the management company, or maybe it's the right management partner but the wrong staff for your culture. But, before you assume that low participation in your fitness center could be fixed by swapping out the vendor, take a holistic view of what's happening in your work environment.
Here's why: if your employees have very little autonomy in their jobs, then the corporate fitness center isn’t even on the employee’s radar. They punch in and punch in without looking back. It doesn’t matter how engaging and inviting the fitness center staff is, how great the services are, how fun the group fitness classes are, and how easy it is to join the fitness center. If their work environment offers no flexibiliy, they will not use your fitness center.
Your fitness management vendor cannot rise above your organization's cultural barriers to magically draw employees into the fitness center, and a vendor switch is a major ordeal. So, exercise caution and take a hard look in the mirror before you fix a vendor relationship that may not be broken.
Your employees lives are complicated and their work environment is part of that sticky picture. Some of them are likely fighting to make it each day, in ways that you may have never considered. If you’re committed to a strategy for employee well-being that is truly about lifting your employees up, then you have to bust through these myths to get to the real barriers that make it hard for people to make a healthy choice. For more on addressing social determinants of health in your wellness program, try this article. If you're looking for a few quick tips to infuse a little more movement into the workday for your employees, grab our quick read below.