Culture   //   January 26, 2023  ■  4 min read

Would you work out more if your company paid for it?

Here we go again.

Every January, most of us promise to exercise more. In fact, it is the top New Year’s resolution among Americans. 

Meanwhile, 7 in 10 of us say we would hit the elliptical more often if our bosses encouraged us to, according to a survey of 2,000 adults in the U.S. by the research firm Opinium. More than half of employees contend that cost is a barrier to their exercising.

Employees were particularly keen on gym memberships and monthly wellness stipends, while a majority of those surveyed also signaled that they would consider participating in a company-sponsored program centered on mindfulness and mental health (yoga, meditation groups).

“Since the pandemic, it has been clear that well-being at work has never been more important, and employers should be offering well-being support to their employees,” said Giulia Prati, vp of research at Opinium U.S.

Across different generations, younger employees are most likely to take advantage of company-sponsored programs, with more than 8 in 10 Gen Z and millennial employees revealing they would exercise more if they had financial support from work.

Many companies don’t have to be persuaded, already having robust wellness programs in place. 

The communications agency Diffusion has established a dedicated wellness team whose purpose is to develop and execute programming that supports employees, including challenges around exercise and hydration (with the aid of Diffusion-branded water bottles) and guest speakers. 

In addition to physical fitness, the company recognizes the need to unplug from work, offering a paid sabbatical after three years of continuous service, as well as regularly scheduled mental health breaks. Each employee receives a monthly wellness allowance. 

Diffusion’s program has had a significant impact on team members and company culture, said president Ivan Ristic, pointing to the allowance as having had a particular impact. “Whether that be a teammate sharing stories about their most recent dance class or their excitement about a new yoga class they’re trying, the allowance encourages employees to prioritize their wellness outside of the office,” he said.

The staffing firm Boldly launched its wellness initiative last year, including Wellness Wednesdays, featuring hourlong restorative yoga and reflexology sessions on the company’s dime rather than employees’ time. As its 150 employees are fully remote and spread across six time zones, recordings were made available. The program was a hit with staffers. As one put it, “I tend to plow through my work without breaks. The result is my body/muscle tension and stress levels being a hot mess. Having these prescheduled wellness dates are a lifesaver.” 

“If you really want to take care of your team, it’s not enough to offer perks like gym memberships,” said Boldly CEO Sandra Lewis. “Although they’re great, they have to be rooted in a workplace culture and community that puts employees and their well-being first.”

Several companies have emerged to help employers provide fitness and wellness services to their rank and file.

Gympass is a platform used by 10,000 companies including ticket platform SeatGeek and asset management firm Brookfield that features gym memberships, one-to-one fitness training, nutrition coaching, mental health support and more. To date, Gympass has notched more than 200 million check-ins, amounting to more than 6 billion minutes of employee wellness. It says companies that offer Gympass realize 43% better retention rates and up to 25% less in annual employee healthcare costs. 

According to Gympass’s “State of Work-Life Wellness Report,” well-being is as important as salary for 4 in 10 workers, with around 75% of those surveyed saying they would only join a company that emphasizes their personal well-being.

Another company, HealthyWage, has created wellness programs for more than 90 Fortune 500 companies and many other employers across the U.S., including hospitals, health systems and schools. HealthyWage says it has paid out rewards valued at more than $52 million to dieters who have lost more than 10 million pounds collectively.

“Forward-thinking employers create a culture that inspires employees to be healthy and supports employees with their wellness goals,” said cofounder David Roddenberry. “Providing a financial benefit — whether that be a gym membership subsidy, free online wellness subscription or participation in a company-sanctioned diet and fitness gamification program with fun challenges based on behavioral economics principles — makes it easier for employees to enhance their well-being and live their best lives.”

Meanwhile, another company, Bundle, offers a range of activities for corporations and their employees, ranging from high-intensity interval training to exercise bootcamps to mindfulness sessions. Taught by certified coaches, employees can choose from a catalogue of classes and options catered to their needs.

“Fostering a workplace culture where employee well-being is a priority, and making it part of your job, shows people that the company is invested in them and cares about them as a whole person,” said Bundle founder and CEO Kayla Lebovits. “It’s good not only for the employee but also for the total well-being of the company. Well-being is a spectrum and how people find total well-being is as unique as they are.”