Should leaders make exercise mandatory in the workplace? 

Are there benefits to making exercise compulsory for workers?

Every Friday, staff at Swedish fashion and sportswear company Björn Borg leave their desks and head for a sweaty hour together at the local gym. 

There’s nothing unusual about that. Except that this is compulsory for every employee at the Stockholm HQ. The philosophy at the company, founded by the Swedish tennis star, is that working out together helps to develop a winning team. 

It’s a policy found at other companies in Sweden. But should forcing staff to exercise during work time be something that UK firms should consider copying?

Investing in the health of your staff seems like a no-brainer, but is compulsory exercise a step too far?

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Fit for office 

There are lots of benefits for your employees if they exercise: they’ll feel healthier, more alert and energetic. It can help to ease stress, build resilience and forge better social connections. 

They may also enjoy a healthier bank balance, as some private health insurance companies offer discounts on premiums and other perks for more active lifestyles. 

But why pay staff to exercise?  

There’s plenty of evidence that getting active during work time offers unique benefits to the employer.

One study found that employees visiting a company gym were more productive in their jobs and went home more satisfied on days when they exercised during their work time.

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Why it pays for employers 

If staff exercise during the workday, they get a sense of achievement as well as an injection of happy hormones that can last all day. 

Another study found that people experienced an immediate improvement in cognition following 15 minutes of moderate exercise – with the business reaping the benefits if they work out during work, rather than after. 

Healthy and happy employees are more likely to be motivated and creative, and less likely to take sick days. Add in supercharged productivity, social connections, loyalty, staff retention and boosted profits, and surely it’s a win-win? 


How to get your staff across the finish line 

While some of your employees will yearn for the Swedish approach, there will be others who’d rather sit it out.  

If your company introduces mandatory exercise, some staff may rebel and refuse to get involved. And if they won’t change their minds, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. 

So, what are the alternatives if you’re not ready to make exercise compulsory? 

During my career as a coach and trainer with England Rugby, I helped develop some of the country's top players and coaches. If one of your goals for 2024 is healthier and happier teams, here are some alternative ways to achieve it. 


Offer discounted or free gym memberships  

Communicate this perk to all your current staff plus during recruitment and onboarding. Stay flexible about when staff can use the gym. And include a family membership option.

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Or hire a personal trainer to come into the office and run a variety of sessions throughout the day to suit different needs. 


Find your zen 

Bring yoga and fitness classes into the workplace; if you make exercise fun and easy to join, there are fewer reasons for people to resist. 


Try standing or walking meetings 

Humans aren’t designed to sit still for eight hours a day. It’s bad for us physically, and movement also aids creativity and thinking. You can also introduce standing desks. 


Fuel their day 

Make nutritious snacks available. This doesn’t have to cost a fortune and could be anything from fresh fruit, to starting the morning with a healthy breakfast muffins delivery. 


Keep on running 

Empower your teams to set up their own lunchtime runs or walks. It’s a great opportunity to get to know each other away from work – and we’re all on an equal footing when we put on our trainers. 


Ben Stocken is founder and managing director of team performance experts West Peak