Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Keys to Success

To make a difference in the lives of your fellow workers, you first need to understand that getting active is not only a matter of choice. Some things are within our individual control, but others are molded by the people and circumstances in which we live and work.

It‘s Easier to Be Active When…

• We know what to do and have the confidence, skills and opportunity to do it.
• It’s fun. “Working out” at the fitness center does not appeal to everyone. Activities need to reflect what people enjoy.
• Our friends, family or co-workers are active with us (or at least support us).
• We feel safe, thanks to well-lit streets or stairways.
• Sidewalks, walking/biking trails, parks and gyms are nearby.
• We have money to pay for equipment, instruction or memberships.
• We can walk, bike or take public transit to work.
• Active choices such as taking the stairs, having stretch breaks at gatherings and heading outside at lunchtime are “normal” in the workplace.
• Managers support and recognize employee efforts. Better yet, they take part.
• We can juggle our work hours to fit in physical exercise.

Think about how you could set up some of these conditions in your workplace. By taking these steps, you’ll increase the likelihood that workers both want and are able to be active during the workday.

Workplace physical exercise pushes that focus only on individuals have limited success. Research shows that reaching people in various ways gives the best chance of long-term success.

A plan directed at multiple echelons is also called an “ecological approach.”

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Types of Evaluation

The sort of assessment you choose is dependent upon when you do it and the kind of information you collect.

This section outlines when to use three types: formative, process and summative evaluations.

During the Design Stage

Use formative evaluations in the planning stages to see that your program is based on solid information. These evaluations also help you to advance effective and appropriate materials and procedures.

Examples of formative evaluations include:

• records of management commitments to the program
• employee interest surveys
• workplace environmental assessments
• pre-testing of program materials

During Your Initiative

A process assessment is used when the initiative is underway. These evaluations help you:

• track what is going well and what isn’t (and how to revise your program)
• find out if you are reaching the workers you want to reach
• describe the initiative to others
• monitor who is participating in the initiative

During or Following Your Initiative

Summative evaluations take place when the initiative is already in place or completed. Use this sort of assessment to measure what workers like about the initiative and what could be improved.

All three types of evaluations have their place. The assessment you choose is dependent upon the time and monetary resources you have available.

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Evaluation Guide

What Do You Wish to Achieve?

Think about why you’re evaluating and what your assessment is going to measure.

If you’re trying to find out whether initiative has been efficacious, see if you stuck to your mission statement and met your objectives.

If you do not have a mission statement or objectives, agree with management and your employee Company Wellness Committee how your organization will track success.

By way of example, you can track success by changes in:

• Physical measures (e.g., strength, flexibility, waist circumference of workers).
• Psychological measures (e.g., employee morale, satisfaction levels, stress levels).
• Productivity measures (e.g., decline in absenteeism rates, increased employee productivity).

Thinking About workers

If you’re considering making improvements to the initiative, consider whether the initiative is still relevant and appropriate for workers. Find out if there are any obstacles to participation in the program or to participation in physical exercise during the workday.

As workers are the ones participating in the program, it’s valuable to give them a chance to offer feedback on the physical exercise initiative.

Choosing an Evaluation Method

Decide on your assessment method. Both measurable results (e.g., absenteeism rates or questionnaire responses) and descriptive results (e.g., one-on-one interviews or focus groups) can be used to evaluate. The method you choose will hinge upon the time and funding available and what you want to measure.

Deciding How to Do the Evaluation

Plan when and where you will do your assessment (and who will be evaluated). For more information, read the “Types of Evaluations” section on this website.
You might want to pilot test your assessment (e.g., with members of the Company Wellness Committee) before sending it out to workers. The employee Company Wellness  Committee might also wish to evaluate the initiative’s planning process.

Doing the Evaluation

• Compare your results to baseline information (i.e., assessment results from before the launch of your initiative). If you do not have this information, save your assessment results to compare with later results. You can also look at other information you may have, such as employee satisfaction survey results.
• Analyze and share meaningful and easy-to-be aware of results with management and workers.
• Evaluation results can be used to better the current physical exercise program and/or to advance new pushes in future.

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Developing an Action Plan

Prior to starting your Workplace Physical Activity Program, summarize the information you’ve collected and plan your next steps.

At this point, you have

• gained support from management for the Workplace Physical Activity Program
• formed an Company Wellness  Committee
• assessed what is possible in your workplace
• found out what workers want and need in a Workplace Physical Activity Program.

Based on this information, you’re now ready to advance your action plan to improve physical exercise at your workplace.

With the Company Wellness Committee, take the following steps.

• Combine the results of the employee survey with the workplace environmental assessment, and report to management and workers.
• Prioritize the possibilities at each of the “levels” (individual, social, company, community, policy) in the workplace listed in “Keys to Success”. By way of example, suppose a big group of workers show an interest in biking to work. Since these people may want to shower and change after their commute each day, you could give showers and changing facilities priority in your workplace. Bike racks could also be valuable for making employees’ bikes secure during the workday.
• Consult the list of practical suggestions found this website.
• Create a mission statement (one which aligns with your organization’s central mission statement) to define your purpose and help guide your process. Setting objectives will help you achieve your mission statement.
• Put together a plan or blueprint approaching what you have learned. Make program and exercise recommendations with timelines, identify resources and assign responsibilities. Revisit the list of tasks outlined in “Step 2: Forming an Employee Committee.” Seek management approval to move ahead.
• Once your initiative is in place, it’s valuable to encourage it to workers. Organizing a launch is a great way to do this. A formal launch also demonstrates management commitment. If workers aren’t aware of the initiative, they can’t take advantage of it!
• Decide what you need to track to show that you have accomplished your objectives. Measure these factors before you begin. This way, when you evaluate later, you will know if there has been a change.

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Employee Interest Survey

To succeed in encouraging physical exercise during the workday, you must find out what workers need and want. They are the people whose behavior you are trying to impact, so it’s vital to be aware of their needs and gain their support.

The Employee Interest Survey

Ask workers questions that let you assess such key characteristics as age, sex, social relationships, family responsibilities and current physical exercise participation.

It’s valuable to know this information so that your physical exercise initiative meets employees’ needs. Workers will not take part in something they’re not interested in.

Ask workers what they want, and then implement changes that fit with their needs and working conditions. By way of example, workers may not wish to do activities that make them sweat, because they do not want to shower at work.

Ask workers what the company could do to make it easier for them to be more physically active during the workday. If there’s a common behavior throughout your organization, a single change could affect a lot of people.

By way of example, suppose a big group shows interest in biking to work. They may want to shower and change after their commute. You might give priority to installing workplace showers and changing facilities. Secure bike storage might be valuable as well.

If you’re launching a program that requires going outside, begin in the spring. By the time winter arrives, participation is already a habit.

Involving workers is key to increasing physical exercise participation rates. People are more willing to take part in and support physical exercise pushes when they are involved in decision making.

The following tips will help you produce your own employee interest survey:

• Keep it short (no longer than 10 minutes to complete).
• Make sure workers know why you are doing the survey.
• Rather than using all open-ended questions, which can be long and tough to analyze, ask people to choose from a drop-down list of possible responses.
• Ask for comments and suggestions in one open-ended question at the end.
• Make it confidential and anonymous. Do not request information that may identify a person.
• If you’re including a list of possible programs or environmental changes, be sure your workplace has the facilities and resources to offer them.

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Committees and Opportunities

Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Forming an Employee Committee

Although support from the top is essential to a efficacious initiative, support from other workers is also valuable.

Once you get the go-ahead from management, identify others who are interested in the project and form a Company Wellness  Committee to help determine the next steps. Depending on the size of your workplace and the amount of employee time management is willing to contribute, this Company Wellness  Committee may be advisory or may plan and carry out the initiative.

The Company Wellness Committee could include workers from human resources, occupational health and safety and finance. It’s also a great idea to involve employee from other areas who have an interest in promoting physical exercise. Terms of reference will define the boundaries of the project. By way of example, it’s valuable for the Company Wellness  Committee to have clearly defined and understood tasks. Possible tasks include the following:

• Assessing your workplace environment
• Carrying out an employee interest survey.
• Developing a mission statement and objectives.
• Writing a physical exercise or wellness policy declaring the organization’s commitment to physical exercise.
• Brainstorming program ideas.
• Promoting, communicating and marketing the initiative.
• Coordinating specific activities.
• Deciding how the initiative will be evaluated.
• Continually assessing what is or isn’t working and adjusting the plan.

Prior to making plans to bolster physical exercise during the workday, it’s valuable to find out what is “doable” in your workplace.

You do not want to raise employee expectations by offering something that’s impossible due to funding or space limits. By way of example, it’s not realistic to suggest putting in a fitness facility if there’s no space for it. Be open, however, to creative ways around limitations.

Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Finding out What’s Possible in Your Workplace

Check with recreation departments or fitness facilities for maps of the local walking trails or underground pedways. Great walking trails may be right around the block from your workplace.

Below are some questions to help you assess your workplace:

• What facilities or opportunities does your work space provide that make it easier to be physically active during the workday? By way of example, do you have stairs, bike racks, showers, space for a fitness facility, factory walking lanes?
• What nearby facilities or opportunities could workers use to be more physically active during the workday? Are you close to sidewalks, walking trails, community centres, bike lanes for active commuting and/or exercise facilities?
• What resources are available?
• Can the initiative access funds, personnel, space, equipment, facilities?
• What is the structure of your company? By way of example, consider employee size, working hours, number of sites, unusual shifts, length of lunch breaks and ability to use flex time.

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Workplace Physical Activity Programs: Gaining Upper Management Support

Gaining management support is essential to the success of a physical exercise initiative.

Whether the changes you’d like to make involve the work environment, central policies or specific programs, successfully launching your ideas is dependent upon management support.

Support from management is essential for three reasons:

• You need their agreement to involve workers in a workplace initiative.
• When management pays attention to and supports initiative, workers also view the initiative as worthwhile.
• Upper Management has the power to give work time and money to support the initiative.

It’s valuable to keep management involved throughout a physical exercise initiative, but at three points you’ll need support for:

• An central concept, including a go-ahead to assess what workers want to do within the limitations of your workplace environment.
• A detailed plan (based on the assessment above) coupled with resources to carry out the plan.
• Analyzing the initiative to better it along the way or to advocate for continuing or expanding the initiative.

Approaching Upper Management

Prior to approaching management to gain initial support for promoting physical exercise during the workday, do your homework.

• Prepare a company case clearly outlining how the company will benefit by promoting physical exercise during the workday.
• List the individual, social and corporate advantages of physical exercise and the advantages of being active during the workday.
• Present some basic ideas about what the program could include. See the Success Stories and Ideas sections on this website to highlight what other workplaces have done.

Expect questions such as the following from management:

• How will this help our company?
• How can we innervate workers to take part?
• How much will it cost to run this program or bring about this change?
• How will we know a year from now whether or not this was a meaningful use of time and resources?

Ask managers about the types of activities they would support. Often managers have their own ideas they would like to see acted on to better the workplace.

Remember to include middle managers when gaining support for your initiative. They can be very helpful when you need volunteers to lead teams in corporate physical exercise challenges.

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