Q: I’m responsible for HR and Benefits, and an employee just asked about installing bicycle or walking desks in the office, citing research about the health and mood benefits for employees. This seems hugely distracting and expensive. Just imagine an office of people pedaling away at their desks! Can I say no, or is this a new norm I need to consider?
A: This is not exactly the new norm, but the new norm is changing at lightning speed. More and more companies are getting involved in health-related support and prevention activities as a way to keep healthcare costs down and engage workers who are interested in and motivated by health and wellness. Companies recognize that healthy workers show up to work more often, so a range of health-conscious workplace initiatives are certainly worth your consideration.
You don’t need to go to the extreme of installing walking or bicycle desks at every workstation, but I suggest you encourage an interest in a healthy workforce. Some options we’ve seen success with are on-site gyms or meditation sessions, contributions to health club memberships, Weight Watchers meetings on site, and company-wide Fitbit step challenges. You could start offering healthier snack options in the office or at work-sponsored events—for example, not serving sodas at company meetings or ordering salads and sandwiches instead of pizza for a Lunch and Learn. Offer standing desk set ups to those who are interested or replace old office furniture with ergonomic chairs. Many health insurance companies also offer help with healthy living in the form of healthcare options that give a portion of their contributions back if employees provide documentation of a gym membership, for example. Employee Assistance Programs run stress management workshops and offer other kinds of support to promote healthy employees. There are plenty of small and large steps you can take to improve the health of your workforce.
While you might not be able to imagine a room full of people pedaling away at their desks, others can. A call center that installed cycling desks might actually see reduced frustration and boredom from employees when dealing with difficult customers or long phone calls. The client impact of any new—and visible—implementation would need to be evaluated. Is it worth it, in terms of client relationships and company image, to make certain things a habit? What works for one company may not work for another. Just as benefits plans aren’t all created equal, things like this are not the same across the board either. What works for your culture, for your vision, for the type of employees you have? Does it make sense financially? Companies have to evaluate for themselves whether the tool they would use would provide enough of a balance in improved client service and employee retention.
Some company always makes the first move on things like this—such as allowing pets onsite to boost employee morale—and treadmill desks have starred in movies. It’s likely cycling desks are being installed somewhere right now. If you’re not that company, that’s fine. The kinds of things you could consider implementing are the non-distracting, non-risky, inexpensive options we’ve detailed. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to encourage and promote a healthy workforce while also giving employees a reasonable understanding of where the funds would come from to support it.