You might not think much of starting an office fitness club. Yes, the intent is sound in that you’re in favor of employees working out to improve their health, but that won’t really affect day-to-day business, will it? You might want to think again, because the benefits of an exercise group could go beyond simply helping employees get in better shape. Let’s take a look at what workers could gain from such an initiative.

Better Team Spirit

Companies spend a small fortune on team-building activities in the hopes that departments and teams will support each other in getting work done. Of course, it’s still a good idea to go this route, but what about creating a yoga class or a lunchtime walking group?

You might wonder how this builds team relationships. First of all, it gives people the opportunity to see each other outside of the conference room, and co-workers learn more about each other when they interact in different situations. It helps them identify themselves as people rather than as competition for the next promotion.

Work across departments is sometimes smooth, but in many cases, people see the neighboring department as the enemy. Things would be easier and more efficient if workers in competing departments were closer. By instituting a fitness club, these relationships can improve. For example, an in-office Pilates class gives people something to talk about that isn’t stressful and related to their jobs.

Better Overall Health Is Good for Your Business

One of the reasons people don’t work out is they simply lack time, but if you’re having a competition to see which department can log the most walking miles, your employees will be motivated to walk and talk rather than sit down for their one-on-ones.

Employees in better health will miss fewer days at work, and your productivity will increase. Anything you can do to lower costs will help your bottom line.

How Do You Create a Fitness Club?

The most critical part of starting a club is to make it voluntary. When it’s mandatory, people won’t be happy about it. Additionally, you need to make sure you don’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by rewarding physical fitness. Be sure to include the capabilities of people with disabilities in your plan.

As long as your club is voluntary and includes everyone, here’s how to go about it:

  1. Appoint a coordinator. Having a single point of contact will make it easier for people to know what’s going on.
  2. Take a survey. You may love basketball, but everyone you work may think soccer is better. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
  3. Decide on your groups. Unless you only have five people in your business and they all want to run marathons, you’re going to have different groups. This is OK. You can’t force people to like an activity.
  4. Encourage participation. If you want success, you need to encourage people to take part in fitness clubs. If you’ve decided on a yoga class, make sure employees aren’t punished for going. This means getting your management team on board. You won’t have success if people can’t make it because their bosses won’t let them.
  5. Reward results the right way. Rewards should be fun incentives and not related to promotions or pay increases. The latter should always be based strictly on work performance.

All in all, having a fitness club can be a huge benefit for interpersonal relationships and your bottom line. It’s an easy way to build team spirit and increase health.

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she interviewed and hired employees, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Her writings have appeared in Inc. Magazine, CBS MoneyWatch, US News, Readers Digest and other publications. She focuses on helping businesses nurture great employees and helping employees enjoy great careers.