Apathy goes out the door when workers are encouraged to make the effort to develop a healthy mind and body

Aside from the obvious effects of exercise on physical fitness and mental well-being, a recent study suggests that the positive impact of exercise on your personal life may extend to how well you function at work.

A survey by recruitment firm Randstad indicates that Kiwi workers believe there is a strong link between performance in the workplace and keeping fit and active, with 70 per cent of employees saying the quality of their work benefits when they exercise regularly.

Perhaps alarmingly, the Randstad report also reveals that over a fifth of New Zealand employees don't feel as if they have enough energy to get up and go to work each day. While it's easy to assume this is caused by lack of fitness, doctor and medical researcher Professor Shaun Holt says low energy and motivation is often a response to such factors as emotional stress, boredom or lack of sleep, and that in some cases fatigue may be a sign of a more serious mental or physical condition and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Holt says possible medical causes of low energy include iron deficiency anaemia, depression, some medications, sleep disorders, an underactive thyroid gland and even diabetes.


Paul Robinson, Randstad's New Zealand director, believes it's important that people find the time to keep fit and active and don't use their jobs and busy schedules as an excuse to let unhealthy habits creep into their lives. "We should all be working with our employers to add these habits into our daily routines," he says. "Whether it's playing sport, joining a running group or going to the gym, it's up to employees and businesses to work together to ensure everyone is as healthy and happy as possible."

The survey highlights that many workplaces help their employees stay fit, and Robinson says these programmes can be easily implemented, require minimal investment and can be a great way to improve performance and build engagement and camaraderie among staff.

The Southern Cross Health Society believes healthy minds and bodies lead to great work. Vicki Caisley, head of people and talent, says the society's wellness programme, Switch2well, sits at the foundation of the organisation and provides a holistic approach to health and wellbeing through educational health and wellness workshops, individual challenges and group activities.

In the six years Switch2well has been running, the company has acted on feedback and suggestions from employees to include an increasingly diverse range of health and wellness topics and activities. "We started with weight loss and smoking cessation programmes and have moved on to nutrition, meditation and injecting new life into group after-work activities to incorporate marathons, fun runs, yoga and even hip-hop classes."

Some employees have used their initiative to organise team events, with walking particularly popular. Photo / Thinkstock

Caisley says that some employees have used their initiative to organise team events, with walking particularly popular. Seven walking groups were formed earlier this year, and over 210 staff participated in organised fun runs and walks. Feedback from the Making it Happen walking group was extremely positive, says Caisley, with members saying it gave them plenty of chances to do something active during the day at times that suited them and their workload.

Comments included, "Our lunchtime walk is a good motivation to keep fit. The walks vary each day, meaning we can push ourselves harder each time," and "We get nine opportunities to get off our tush and get some exercise done and at the same time meet people from other parts of the business."

Tellingly, one member commented: "I feel much more energetic to take on the rest of the day."

Other highlights of the Switch2well programme include "the sustainable commute" (where 270 staff travel to work by train, bike, walking, ferry, bus or carpool), flu vaccinations, healthy lunches, eye checks, healthy finance seminars, nutritional videos and, most recently, a team pedometer challenge called Shift, which ran for four weeks in May and June with 61 per cent of employees participating.

Shift was designed by workplace wellness strategist Synergy Health to encourage employees to increase their levels of incidental activity throughout the day while competing for points in teams. Each week, individuals within teams are challenged to walk the equivalent distance matching a specific global destination, measured as "go-points", with a "go-gadget" pedometer. Along the way, participants are encouraged to undertake a series of daily challenges that bring these destinations to life in a virtual story, with interesting facts to uncover, insights to share, and prizes to help keep teams motivated and engaged during the challenge.

Synergy Health managing director Brad Norris says successful wellness programmes need to do more than just prescribe healthy behaviours.

"They need to entertain people and they need to engage people to want to participate," he says. "An outcome of this is they become healthier, but it's often not the reason they initially get involved."

Ziggy Harrison (picture), group services specialist at Southern Cross, has championed several staff challenges. "I really appreciate that the organisation I work for is so supportive and open to staff doing things," she says. "Personally, I love the challenge of organising an activity and getting people involved and I get a lot out of seeing them achieve their goals."

This year, Harrison entered the Rotorua Marathon, raising $1,600 for the Child Cancer Foundation, and her next project is to organise a coast-to-coast walking challenge for staff, from the Manukau Harbour to Queen's Wharf. Harrison has noticed that people who participate have a lot of gratitude towards each other and the organisation as a whole. "When you help meet a need, such as raising money for a charity or providing assistance in the community in some way, it makes you feel really good about yourself."

Caisley says that while employees enjoy the challenges of Switch2well, "it's fair to say that encouragement is required to maintain interest in participation.

"However, feedback after each activity tells us our people are enjoying and benefiting from the programme.

"Last year almost 80 per cent agreed that, 'My participation in Switch2well activities has had a positive impact on my health and wellbeing'," she says.

As to whether that translates into improved work performance, Harrison says, "What I've noticed about activities such as the walking groups is that after taking a short break to do something that's good for you, you come back to the job with increased energy and focus."

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