Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Exercise: Coming Soon to Your Workplace?

Like most people who work in an office, I spend most of my workday sitting. Although I periodically use a standing workstation or walk to the printer (right outside my office), my workday is generally a sedentary affair. Exercise is part of my evening and weekend schedule.  

Perhaps that is why a recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Carl Cederstrom and Torkild Thanem titled “The Swedish CEO Who Runs His Company Like a CrossFit Gym” caught my eye. The article profiles Bjorn Borg, a Swedish sports fashion company (yes, named for the tennis star), and in particular, its CEO, Henrik Bunge. Bunge, not like some other CEOs, has implemented mandatory company workouts.  Think your yoga class or boot-camp session at the office. That sounds simultaneously inspiring and terrifying.
Bunge is part of a generation of CEOs who are throwing concepts like “transformational” and “authentic” leadership to the wayside in favor of “fitness leadership.” The theory is that work and fitness go hand-in-hand: Much like at the gym, the harder you work, the better your results. Bunge was brought in as CEO in 2014, when the company was struggling. His view was that the 60 employees had to “train harder, measure our goals better, and become a better team” and that success could be achieved through a marriage of exercise and work. All employees are now required to take fitness tests twice a year and there are mandatory Friday fitness classes, team wall squat and push-up competitions, and the occasional game of ping pong. 

Has the strategy worked? Well, between 2014 and 2016, employee turnover increased from 8% to 25%.  And, according to the article, there is no evidence that exercise can make someone happier in their job, even if it makes their overall life more enjoyable. On the other hand, key indicators at Bjorn Borg improved significantly when Bunge came on board. Between 2013 and 2016, net sales increased by 27% and operating profits tripled. During 2016, employee engagement increased by 3%. The company invested in health and work-life balance initiatives, including workshops on stress management and sleep, which Bunge said have positively impacted employees’ lives.    

Certainly the jury’s still out as to whether combining work and exercise in such an extreme fashion will actually prove successful. Nevertheless, incorporating your workout into your workday (all while staying at the office) is an interesting concept that we may continue to see increase in popularity as workplaces look to provide more corporate wellness initiatives for employees. 

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