As fitness professionals, we naturally hold the conviction that exercise can have a positive effect on an employee's health, attitude and productivity, but is there research to quantify that? If so, does this research provide a legitimate "outcome measurement" to increased revenue (dollars and cents)? Is there any research that demonstrates cost savings to an employer who provides onsite fitness vs. those who do not?
"Does research demonstrate a correlation between exercise and increased productivity?"
Yes, it does! Research demonstrates that the benefits resulting from employee participation in an exercise program include:
- Decrease in employee turnover
- Improvements in job performance and productivity
- Increased employee satisfaction
"Are there outcome measurements that prove consistent exercise participation results in greater revenue generation?"
Although the research is encouraging, it does not prove that increases in employee satisfaction and productivity are a direct result of exercise. It can’t! First of all, employee satisfaction is subjective and therefore cannot be measured by research alone. Secondly, there is no way of knowing whether or not the improvements in productivity where the consequence of the exercise program or the employer's expectations. If the people implementing the program possess a confident expectation that it will work, it may produce a Pygmalion effect, where the employees improved performance is the result of increased expectation, not exercise. Or the employees may experience a placebo effect, believing that exercise makes them more productive. This is known as the Hawthorne effect.
The Western Electric Plant in Hawthorne, Illinois experienced a dramatic increase in productivity following the installation of a new lighting system. As a result, they assumed that the improved lighting was responsible for the increase in employee performance. To confirm their assumption, they replaced the new lighting system with the original one six months later to test the result. Surprisingly, when the original system was re-installed, the company experienced a greater increase in employee productivity than the first time! The conclusion was that the increase in productivity came from the employees perception that their work environment was consistently being improved and had nothing to do with the change in lighting.
The Hawthorne effect could provide a rationale for decreased employee turnover, reported increase in employee satisfaction and productivity.
"Is there any information that demonstrates a decrease in company costs associated with an employee exercise program?"
Again, the answer is yes. The correlation between exercise participation and decreased financial expenditure is reported to decrease costs due to the following:
- A reduction in health insurance costs
- Decreased employee absenteeism
- Injuries (including work related) and compensation claims
- Injury related employee absenteeism
This is becoming an increasingly greater concern among employers in the United States over the past decade due to the fact that annual heathcare expenditures now exceed $1 trillion.
In addition, it has been reported that there is a high incidence of re-occurring injury following rehabilitation in patients with musculo-skeletal impairment, especially of the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex. This may be attributed to a dysfunction in the neural and active (muscular) systems of the body as a result of injury. Atrophy and dysfunction of the multifidus as well as a decreased ability to recruit the transverse abdominis has been demonstrated in patients who suffered low back pain/injury.
This results in decreased proprioception and the ability of the inner unit (local stabilization system) to effectively stabilize the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex. This will result in predictable patterns of dysfunction (serial distortion patterns) throughout the entire kinetic chain (active, passive and neural structures of the body). These patterns of dysfunction can eventually result in synergistic dominance (excessive recruitment of a synergist to compensate for an inhibited prime mover). This alters the length/tension relationships, force/couple systems and normal joint mechanics throughout the body. If not addressed through individualized assessment and an integrated training program, these alterations in normal function can be responsible for the re-occurrence of injury.
Re-occuring injury is extremely relevant to an employeer concerned with costs correlated to employee absentism, because musculo-skeletal injury is estimated to result in over 60 million days of bed rest.
It is reported that 43 percent of all work-related injuries are sprains and strains, 60 percent involving the trunk (Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex).
This increases the value of implementing a training program that includes a comprehensive Kinetic Chain Assessment and individualized program design, along with an integrated progression plan. An individualized program is more appropriate than participation in a general fitness program for meeting the varying goals, needs and abilities of the participants. Personal training also accounts for another factor not previously mentioned: compliance. Just because a program is offered does not mean it will be taken advantage of. One-on-one or group instruction increases the likelihood of commitment among employees.
While an increase in employee productivity cannot be proven to be the direct result of exercise itself, there appears to be evidence that improvements in productivity do occur as the result of consistent employee participation in a exercise program. My hypothesis is that the increase in productivity is the primary concern of an employer and not so much whether it occurred from the actual or perceived results of an exercise program. An increase in productivity coupled with savings resulting from in increase in the retention of experienced employees may provide significant positive consequences to a company's bottom line.
As far as bottom line savings go, if an employer would add up total annual absenteeism of their employees and multiply that by their hourly wages lost, it would be obvious that decreased absenteeism by itself is justification to consider a corporate exercise program. Couple that with decreased insurance costs and injury claims, and you have considerable cost-related benefits to exercise. Therefore, the question to an employer is not, "Have you considered the benefits of implementing an exercise program for your employees?" but, "How important is it for you in your position to save time (increased productivity, lower employee turnover) and money for your company?"
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