How to attract employees, promote community and support health with wellness amenities

Sue Pridham – Published in Canadian Facility Management & Design CFM&D, August 19th 2015

Corporate fitness and wellness amenities are on the incline in Canada — especially in urban centres. An expert offers guidelines for developing physical spaces, and supporting programming that will promote health as well as attract employees and build community.

The physical environment can have a big impact on peoples’ health, vitality, and sense of community.  Almost 70 per cent of employees want corporate wellness programs according to a recent poll conducted by Monster, the global online employment solution. Commercial real estate companies are also seeing demand for fitness facilities, from prospective tenants.

Whether a company is relocating or renovating, upfront planning will ensure its facility meets employee and organizational needs. Here are a few guidelines in creating facilities that will stand the test of time and not become the proverbial white elephant.

For many organizations, the first step is to make a business case for an in-house fitness and wellness facility. This case should demonstrate the return on investment, how the facility and related programs will be integrated into the corporate or tenant property vision, and  show its long term viability.

Meet with key stakeholders to discuss the overall vision for the fitness/wellness facility and how it will be integrated into the overall business strategy. Consider soliciting support from a corporate fitness consulting company at the outset, as the operations model of a workplace facility differs from a commercial gym.

Survey employees/tenants to gauge interest in an on-site fitness facility, find out the types of fitness and wellness programs they would like to see, and determine how much they are prepared to contribute in membership fees. A survey has the added benefit of fostering a sense of employee/tenant ownership of the project. A word of caution, though: only conduct a survey if the organization is planning on moving forward with the project.

Workplace gyms and wellness rooms range in size from 500 square feet to 30,000 square feet, with the average facility size being 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. When setting space requirements, consider that participation rates typically range from 15 to 75 per cent.

Uptake will depend on whether a membership fee is charged, hours of operation, accessibility to the office, the scope of the facility and equipment provided, whether the facility is professionally managed, and types of programs offered. A flexible work environment with supportive leadership will also have better uptake.

Corporate fitness facilities typically include an individual workout area with cardio and strength equipment; a group fitness area for classes, showers and change rooms; a room for massage therapy and fitness assessments; and a workstation for professional staff.

Group fitness classes are the mainstay of many successful corporate fitness facilities, especially in workplaces with a large female demographic. Classes such as boot camp, circuit training, spinning, yoga, Pilates and Zumba have widespread appeal and help to build a sense of community at work.

Do not cut corners when it comes to the change rooms. In a corporate environment, it is particularly important to get this right. Allow enough space to accommodate prime-time use over the noon hour and after work.

Consider whether a towel service will be provided and design for towel pick-up and drop-off as well as storage for clean and used towels. Many organizations opt out of towel service due to cost.

Consider a full complement of fitness equipment to provide a total body workout for all fitness levels. The most popular cardio equipment includes treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes. Cardio equipment with built in TVs and iPod connectivity comes at a higher price point but will enhance the participant experience. Include a variety of strength machines and free weights. Core conditioning and functional training equipment has been steadily growing in popularity.

When purchasing fitness equipment, look for a reputable dealer who also has the ability to service the equipment. Purchasing fitness equipment is like buying a car. Do research and buy commercial-grade equipment that will perform well over several years.

One of the first questions an employer will ask is: “What is our liability with a corporate fitness facility?” There are numerous ways to minimize liability and enhance safety. Ensure adequate professional and commercial liability insurance is in place, require signed waivers and put a card-access system in place to monitor usage.

Consider responsible and reasonable supervision of the facility. Many companies outsource this task to a professional management company with the experience and resources to provide a customized and integrated program. Ensure professional and qualified staff are available to provide health screening, fitness assessments, equipment orientation, group exercise classes, gym floor supervision, equipment maintenance and overall marketing and administration of the facility.

The bottom line: Build it and they will come! A well-planned and managed workplace fitness and wellness facility is a popular amenity to attract and retain employees and tenants alike, and will provide employees years of enjoyment. The research shows employers can expect a return of $2 to $6 for every dollar invested. Many employers understand the value of an on-site fitness and wellness facility; investing in the health and well-being of their employees makes good business sense.