Healthy employees. Should sport be compulsory in companies?

Sweden is the European country with the highest percentage of active people in the population: 70% of Swedes do some physical activity at least once a week. Some Swedish companies force employees to exercise one hour a week. Should sport be mandatory? What are the benefits? Is it a good investment? Can the Swedish model spread to the rest of Western countries, where obesity is already a pandemic?

Healthy employees, efficient company

Healthy employees are more productive employees. In 2017, a study by professors Ian Larkin (University of California, Los Angeles), Timothy Gubler (University of California, Riverside) and Lamar Pierce (Washington University, St. Louis) showed that a healthy worker is between 4% and 10% more productive. In addition, their personal assessment of the company and its leaders is much more positive. They think the company cares about their physical well-being.

These figures would indicate that Swedish companies that force their workers, like Kalmar Vatten or Björn Borg, seem to be right in their decision to mandate exercise: their workers are happier and perform better – a win-win proposition.

In the specific case of the university study, that of an industrial clothes laundry, the figures were clear: The laundry company’s total cost for the wellness program was around $32,640, and the authors estimated the total productivity benefit at $57,558, which implies a net return on investment of 76.3%. In other words, for every $100 it spent on the wellness program, the firm earned $176 in output from its employees.

Healthy employees, less absenteeism

It is not the only study that demonstrates the profitability of investing in health. In 2014, a study from the University of Stockholm showed that practicing physical activity during the working day had advantages for employees – making them more fit and concentrated – and the employer, who achieves a 22% reduction in absenteeism. This is a remarkable result in a country where sick leave is twice the European average.

In Spain, the state itself, through the Consejo Superior de Deportes, calculated that each euro invested in the promotion of active living was equivalent to 2.9 euros of savings in public health expenditure. Therefore, the benefits of forcing employees to exercise in companies not only redound to the companies themselves and its healthy employees, but also to the whole of society.

Since the end of the 1980s, most companies in Sweden have subsidized the sports activities of their employees with up to 500 euros per year, which is exempt from taxes. Some also organize sports classes during working hours.

In the case of the company Björn Borg, the exercise hour is mandatory. The company is proud to have created a workplace in which to live and work better. Since the beginning of this health and exercise project, all the key data indicators of the group have been improving. Additionally, the hour of obligatory sport, which is almost always done in a group, srengthens the relationship between the different services and allows for weakening rigid hierarchical relations.

The compulsory workout clases in Björn Borg, which all employees must participate in, differ each week.  Previous sessions have included boxing, Crossfit, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and yoga. If employees cannot attend the class, because they are off-site or pregnant, etc., then they are encouraged to complete another form of physical activity instead.

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