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Employee Engagement | 21 minute read

Executive team insights: How resolving to exercise more will make you a better business leader

November 4, 2020

This post first appeared on LinkedIn, and has been refreshed in 2020 to reflect some of the impacts COVID-19 has had on our lives. 

Getting more exercise often tops the list of New Year’s resolutions that many people make in January. However, I think everyone should exercise regularly, regardless of what time of year it is. Exercise is often linked to business success and it’s easy to see why due to the many advantages it has. 

It increases energy levels, helps to shed excess weight, improves health and it also makes people feel good. Every time you exercise, your body releases endorphins which trigger positive and happy feelings. Given the many advantages associated with regular exercise, I was surprised to learn that less than a quarter of adults in the US are getting enough of it. Just 23 percent of Americans aged between 18 and 64 met 2008 guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise between 2010 and 2015, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to alter our typical routines and we’ve had to  learn how to exercise differently because of quarantine restrictions. Exercising can be a helpful way to burn stressors and foster positive feelings of accomplishment and happiness, so it’s more important than ever 

The link between exercise and success 

I think it’s fair to say that there’s a link between exercise and business success. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson have one thing in common, they exercise on an almost daily basis. Zuckerberg has been quoted several times in the press talking about the benefits of exercise, and Sir Richard Branson is a huge advocate of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, he actually said that he doubts he would have been as successful in his career (and happy in his personal life), if he hadn’t always placed such importance on his health and fitness. He starts every day with exercise and says it puts him in a “great mind frame to get down to business.” It clearly works. In December, the latest test flight by one of his companies, Virgin Galactic, successfully rocketed to the edge of space and back and is set to offer commercial flights in the first quarter of 2021. 

Exercise increases productivity 

I try and exercise at least once a day, and if I’m too busy  and can’t fit it in, I certainly feel the impact and my productivity dips. And therein lies the point: business leaders should ensure exercise is part of their daily routine (if it’s not already of course!). Someone once told me that the best thing you can do for your team is to take care of yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with this as it means you’re on hand to help your team as and when they need it. I also think that you should encourage your employees to exercise regularly too - they’ll be happier due to the endorphins and productivity will rise. And healthy active employees tend to get sick less often. Illness-related lost productivity costs employers around $530 billion a year, according to a report from the Integrated Benefits Institute. 

Read more here on how to maintain employee well-being in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

Exercise relieves stress 

There’s been a lot of changes happening in the world recentlywhich leads to considerable amounts of stress for everyone, myself includedPandemic closures forced many of our day-to-day activities to stop or change completely. Whether it’s working remotely and not in an office or delivering groceries instead of visiting the storethese changes are leading to a decrease in physical activity. Yet, studies from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America have shown that regular participation in aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep and improves self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can have anti-anxiety effects.  

I’m also finding incredible benefit from taking 10 minutes a day to meditate. You just need to find a quiet, comfortable spot and take a few deep breaths while you clear your mind. If you’re having a hard time finding quiet with more people working insidego outside for an ideal spot. There are some great guided meditations online that are free to use. Taking time for yourself can have valuable effects on stress levels, especially when youre feeling down. I recommend starting at five minutes and steadily increasing. You’ll be able to focus better over time. I enjoy applying the skills learned from meditation in my daily business life too, as it helps give me clarity to be a better leader and make more informed decisions. 

The importance of corporate wellness programs 

Corporate wellness programs support and encourage a holistic approach to employee wellbeing by creating an organizational culture of health. They are critical to driving business outcomes and it’s not hard to see why. People spend an average of 40+ hours per week in the workplace, so being happy and healthy is imperative. Wellness programs also help improve staff retention rates, attract candidates and reduce absenteeism while improving productivity. 

Google has a great corporate wellness program. It offers onsite wellness and healthcare services, including physicians, chiropractic, physical therapy, and massage services in some of its offices. Many are also equipped with on-site fitness centers and classes and it has campus cafes and micro kitchens to provide nutritious meals and snacks to keep staff “healthfully energized” throughout the day. 

We have a wellness program here at WilsonHCG which includes subsidized gym memberships, medical programs, regular seminars on the importance of healthy eating and nutrition, tips and support on financial wellness, activity and fitness competitions and much more. We also have an employee-run wellness committee to help plan and implement activities and persuade staff to get involved. No matter whether you’re physically in an office or a remote environment, encouraging employees to participate in activities will help boost morale and improve well-being.  

Self-discipline will improve 

And then there’s self-discipline. Exercise is all about setting goals and pushing to reach them no matter what. Employees that exercise regularly will be more likely to have a can-do attitude and overcome barriers in order to succeed. So, there you have it. If you’re not exercising regularly, or encouraging your employees to exercise, you really are missing out! I encourage you to find three ways to create a more active environment for your employees. This will help them to better manage their stress levels and feel more productive and focused when it matters most. 

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About Kim Pope

Kim Pope is the chief operating officer at WilsonHCG, a global talent solutions leader that elevates the delivery of talent partnerships and transforms them into impactful business functions. A leader with an eye for innovation, Kim has played an influential role in the company’s double-digit growth through numerous acquisitions and funding from PE firms over the years. She is currently featured as an expert on the Forbes Human Resources Council and was named in SIA’s 40 under 40 list, a Tampa Bay Business Journal BusinessWoman of the Year honoree and SIA’s Global Power 150 Women in Staffing. Kim’s forward-looking perspective inspires her team to continually evolve the WilsonHCG brand and solution offerings.