Suzanne Lucas

What’s the Best Way to Get Employees to the Gym?

Sure, you want to get your workers to the gym, but how should you do it? Should you set up a fitness reimbursement system as part of your employer wellness program, or should you go all-in and build an on-site gym? Either option has its benefits, depending on your business, your employees and your location.

Fitness Reimbursement Programs

In reimbursement setups, employees join a local gym or health club, submit a receipt for the costs of membership and are paid back by the company, whether in full or in part.

Pros

The first benefit of this system is that it requires no capital investment — since you’re only responsible for paying for the gym membership, there’s no major investment in equipment and additional space.

Smaller employers may not have enough liquidity or enough employees to justify building a gym. For example, a business with four employees has little reason to build a full facility.

Reimbursement also makes sense for some larger business. If your employees are at multiple worksites, you may want everyone to have equal access to a gym without building several new on-site facilities. Reimbursement programs also make sense if many of your employees work from home.

Your employees can benefit from reimbursement systems, too. They’ll enjoy having the flexibility, for instance, to choose intensive workouts at CrossFit studios or lower-key options like yoga. And note that you can often arrange for discounted memberships at many fitness centers, which are happy to give you (and your employees) a break for the boost in business. So be sure to ask.

Cons

At the same time, the time it takes employees to travel to and from an off-site gym can eat into their lunch- or break-times, potentially diminishing productivity in turn. Even a fitness center less than a mile away can mean a significant investment of time. And depending on your area, options may be limited. If there’s nothing where you’re located or where your employees live, you risk seeing an underwhelming percentage of employees taking advantage of this benefit.

Finally, reimbursement programs make it difficult to gather data on usage. You’ll know, of course, how many people sign up and seek reimbursements, but it will be much more difficult to find out how often they actually go to the gym or what they do there. This means you’ll have some trouble determining whether or not you’re getting a solid return on your investment.

On-site Gyms

Whether it’s a room with a few stationary bikes and treadmills or a full-fledged fitness center with showers and a sauna, many employees see an on-site gym as a perk.

Pros

They’re a useful tool for recruiting and retention. Showing attractive candidates your on-site gym when they come in to interview could make a difference in landing the hire.

On-site facilities also offer a convenience that fitness reimbursement programs can’t: Employees can come in early, stay late or work out during their lunch break without taking the time to drive to a new location. The convenience of having a gym just down the hall also means that your employees will be more likely to get up and use it — and employees who see their colleagues taking advantage of the offering and improving their health may be more inspired to do the same. Employees with children in day care may find an on-site gym especially appealing, since they won’t have to arrange an extra babysitter for an evening workout.

And unlike with fitness reimbursement programs, you can easily track usage to determine cost-effectiveness. It’s not your job to monitor individual employees and their personal fitness — nor are they likely to appreciate you watching over their shoulders — but it will be easy to tell how frequently the gym is used and which machines or equipment are more in-demand than others. Depending on your building’s setup, having employees swipe into the facility with their ID cards can provide you with an additional layer of insight.

Cons

Some of the downsides of building an on-site gym are obvious: It requires a capital investment, even if you’re just repurposing a conference room. At a minimum, you need the appropriate equipment, but you may also want to install locker rooms with showers (for which everyone will thank you). And again, businesses with multiple sites will have to spend more to accommodate all their employees. Plus, remote workers will be left out of this perk.

You’ll also need to make sure your insurance covers you for an on-site gym. Don’t assume that you can just put three stationary bicycles and a treadmill into a room and call it a day. What happens if an employee suffers an injury? At the same time, depending on your needs and what your insurance carrier suggests, you may have to hire a new employee to monitor and help out with the on-site fitness center. That’s an additional cost.

Recommended:

Depending on your business, building an on-site gym may be too big of a commitment for the present. To get started, consider setting employees up with a reimbursement system for now, seeking feedback in six months to determine what changes you should consider making to your employer wellness program.

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