Getting Employees More Active - The Pros and Cons of Various Approaches
Most companies now recognize how desirable it is to encourage physical activity amongst their employees. Physically active employees pay lower healthcare premiums, and generally have better engagement, higher morale, and more self-esteem. A study reports that 52% of workers surveyed claimed that they had more energy and felt more productive when participating in a wellness program. Another 35% reported they had taken fewer sick days. Additional research also supports these findings - employees who partake in at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week take 4.1 fewer days off work per year.
While there is no question on the desirability of providing regular access to physical activities, turning the concept into a reality is not always clear for organizations. Today, employers are more likely to provide online wellness information or educational tools as a means to promote healthy behavior. However, in a recent shift some companies are trying to identify options to give employees more direct access to health and wellness activities. The common consensus is that employees want to be healthier and deeply appreciate employer benefits that align to this objective.
According to a Principle Wellness Co. survey fitness center discounts are the most common wellness benefit - Simply put – fitness perks can help you attract and retain high-quality talent. The vast number of solutions being evaluated today have several pros and cons versus your typical corporate wellness programs, which often focus on eliminating pain and reducing cost. With varying levels of success, here are three potential options that employers may use to provide their employees with regular access to physical activities:
Reimbursement for physical activities
Employee reimbursement for wellness or fitness related costs, allows each person to retain a membership with a fitness center of their choice.
- Flexibility of choice allows each employee to choose a gym that is convenient and offers them the programs and classes they choose. With some reimbursement programs, employees might also be able to take the money and put it towards pursuing a sport or unusual fitness activity (i.e. the growing popularity of circus fitness).
- Lower direct costs to employees, which reduces each person’s out-of-pocket costs.
- Tax benefit to companies: And although the reimbursements are taxable to employees, they are in fact a deductible expense for employers.
- Tracking of employee enrollment in physical activities.
- Cost to employers. Each employee will select their own program, which essentially means paying the market price. Hence, As a result, employers are not receiving a corporate advantage in line with size and scale of the organization, which often comes with access to significantly better deals to attain the same level of service.
- While there may be some tracking of employee enrollment and fees, there typically is no actual tracking of employee usage and activity selection. Therefore, it is often harder to show the real ROI of any program. With such low oversight, some employees may sign up for and collect the benefit and then use it for something other than a gym membership.
- Employer often incurs the cost of reimbursement for the part of the population that are enrolled, but not necessarily engaged in physical activities. Employees have an incentive to enroll and get the reimbursement, regardless of the usage, as there is no. proper management tracking for this.
- Limited engagement and incentives for those who are not exercising. Apart from getting the reimbursement, there is no way to encourage enrollment and use (e.g. employees have to do the groundwork of looking for a gym, sign-up etc)
- Operational burden to employers. To implement this successfully, people and process to spearhead the reimbursement initiatives are required, including checking how the policies are being followed, collecting receipts etc.
In-House Gym or Fitness Center
Some companies choose to keep their gym and fitness activities in-house. Including multi-purpose rooms, gym equipment and even hiring instructors to do yoga classes and similar at the office.
- Convenience to employees who want to engage in a particular activity during a specified time frame (at or around working hours).
- Discounted or non-existent cost to employees to use the in-house facilities or classes.
- In some cases, employers can track usage of facilities and classes (if there are solutions like tracking key card swipes for instance)
- Operational burden and high costs to employers. An in-house gym is extremely costly to build and to maintain. The employer has to pay for the facilities, equipment, maintenance, and overhead, to name just a few. These expenses are outside of normal core business expenses, which tends to increase the opportunity cost of those resources (including the real estate). This holds true in terms of cost even if the companies outsource the management of the facilities to a third party.
- The gym is unavailable to off-site employees, which may cause morale issues or frustration for companies that have multiple locations, or staff working at remote site or at home.
- The choice is limited and the available classes and equipment may not suit all employees. On-site fitness centers tend to offer a few standard class options - and companies may not be able to afford additional facilities such as pools or specific classes.
- It is harder to extend the benefit to family members, something that can make a huge difference for attraction and retention of talent.
- In-house gyms may not always be available, or may not be as convenient on weekends, holidays or at other times when the office is closed.
- Exercising in the workplace and around work colleagues, may not be desirable to a significant group of employees. In particular, those who do not frequently exercise may feel pressured or intimidated.
Partnership with a Gym Chain
A third option is to enter into a partnership with a local gym chain, allowing gyms to offer a discounted, corporate rate to the employees of a particular company.
- No direct cost to the employer, as the employees have access to the discount directly.
- No operational burden to the employer and everything is handled between the gyms and the employees who enroll.
- Limited options - employees are limited to the chains contracted by the employer, including the type of facility (and related cost), locations (usually close to the office, but not the employees’ homes) and types of activities.
- Limited engagement due to poor promotion internally, and no associate program to encourage use. A common example here is a link buried somewhere in the companies benefits website. The result is that this option ends up only being used by the employees who already exercise at that particular chain.
- Like in-house gyms, it can cause problems for people at remote locations, especially if you have locations in another state where the chain may not have outlets.
- The discounts are generally fairly limited 10-20% of the market price - making this still costly for employees.
- Similar to the other options above there is not tracking of enrollment and use that can be correlated to actual health and productivity outcomes.
Comparison of corporate wellness solutions
Here is a summary of the pros and cons of the options discussed:
As described above, it is great that companies are looking for solutions that concretely incentivize their employees to have a healthier, more active life. However, the majority of the solutions used today to achieve these goals, present several gaps, and trade-offs that make them ineffective in producing the desired results. In particular, none of these options can adequately balance reasonable costs to employers and employees, flexibility, operational burden, and data to actually show the impacts of the benefit.
Moreover, one of the key flaws of these options seems to be their limited ways to engage employees and incentive them to exercise more, in particular, the employees that today do not have a fitness membership. This ranges from what is the actual advantages offered to the employees, to the initiatives in place to promote awareness and incentivize the usage. For instance, programs that help to bring people together to exercise, targeted communication focusing on different exercise options to different demographics etc.
Gympass as a corporate wellness solution
Gympass was designed with these major gaps in mind - a solution that any company of any size can use to bridge the gap between the ideal of physical activity bringing positive results and making that ideal a reality. It is significantly more affordable, accessible and flexible exercise option to employees. And this with no operational burden to employers, and with a strong data-driven approach to prove its benefits.
With a single monthly subscription, employees can use any gym they want, at any time they want - including all types of gyms, studios, fitness centers and other physical activity providers that are part of a global network. Employees love the subsidized memberships prices (50% off traditional memberships), the number of options (from large gym chains to boutique studios, near home or work or when traveling) and the flexibility to join or cancel the program at any point in time.
With so many gyms and types of activities, there is bound to be one that is convenient to each employee in each company. As this is as close as possible of what would be the “perfect fitness membership”, this platform is valuable not only to employees who already get exercise but especially to a large population that without this option and benefits would not have a membership and exercise constantly. Gym members are 14 times more likely to meet recommended fitness guidelines - and employees who can choose their own gym membership are more likely to use it
On top of that, Gympass is a turnkey solution that has no overhead for employers, but can still be customized to their needs and to maximize the engagement levels in any company. For example, you can provide rewards for the number of check-ins made in a given month. Employees will feel more like they are being given an opportunity, and more importantly, the choices that matter for each individual, to improve their health.
The day pass system allows gym usage to be tracked - allowing for that data-driven approach - and can even tell you whether your employee checked in to lift weights, attend a class, get a session with a personal trainer or swim in the pool. Gympass as an impactful, cost-effective and easy-to-manage corporate benefit that attracts and retains talent and increases employee engagement while reducing health costs, turnover and absenteeism.
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.