Corporate Wellness

How to Boost Employee Productivity Through Exercise

23 Jun 2017
Last updated on 1 Jun 2023

When measured against some of the leading economies, productivity in the UK is sorely lacking. Britain’s productivity has slowed more than that of any other G7 economy, and while other countries’ productivity also slowed during the financial crisis, the UK seems to have been hit particularly hard.

Here, the rate of growth remains much lower than it was prior to 2007, lagging behind the US and other European countries. The latest figures show that output per hour worked in Britain was 16% below that of other G7 countries in 2015. To put it in context, a French, US or German worker can produce more in four days than a UK worker can in five.

The problem has been called “one of the UK’s biggest economic challenges”.

Some of the sectors that have been most affected are banking, telecoms, utilities, management consultancy and legal and accounting services. Together, these industries make up just 11% of the economy, yet they account for two-thirds of the slowdown, according to research from the Financial Times.

Why are our workers still in second gear?

There are a number of reasons for the UK’s low productivity levels, including poor management, outdated technologies and inadequate compensation. Stress and poor health also impact productivity.

Stress has been linked to higher workplace errors and poor performance, possibly due to loss of concentration and memory. Meanwhile, poor overall health is associated with presenteeism – where employees attend work in spite of poor health, putting in a less than adequate day’s work – and the greatly reduced productivity levels that result from it.

Exercise can help boost Britain’s output

While business leaders ponder how to up productivity among their workforce, there’s a sure-fire way to boost output and, even better, it can bring immediate results. The solution is exercise.

For many executives, allowing staff to exercise during the working day may seem counter-productive. But consider some of the productivity-boosting benefits it brings:

  • Lifts the mood – all those feel-good chemicals that surge around our body after a workout improve our sense of wellbeing.
  • Boost energy levels – absolutely essential for businesses that are looking to raise productivity. Exercise works in two ways, not only improving muscle strength and boosting endurance; it’s also been shown to affect energy production at a cellular level, helping the brain work more efficiently.
  • Improves mental sharpness – exercise increases blood flow to the brain, helping to keep the mind alert and on the job.
  • Increases motivation – those same feel-good chemicals along with the sense of achievement we feel after a good workout can boost our motivation, or zest for life (including our work life).
  • Improves physical health – there’s no doubt that our physical wellbeing as well as our emotional health can impact productivity. Regular exercise helps keep illness at bay by enhancing our immune system. Not only will your staff be fit enough to handle the job, they’ll also have fewer sick days – and productivity will start to soar.

You can lead a horse to water…

But how do you ensure that employees are taking their health seriously and getting the exercise that they need?

Here are a few tips for supporting exercise at work:

  1. Good Communication

Health and wellbeing programmes work best if staff are signposted to all the benefits you’re offering. Good communication is key to engaging workers in exercise and other wellbeing initiatives. Remember to flag up all the ways they’ll benefit from getting fit, too.

  1. Flexibility

One of the most common excuses for people not to exercise is the tired old line, “I don’t have time”. Getting your staff to exercise is one of the simplest and most effective ways you can quickly boost their productivity. So there’s every reason for companies to exercise a little discretion. Focus on what your employees can achieve, not what time they clock in to work.

Exercising in the morning has been found to be particularly beneficial. Offer some flexibility over start times for employees who visit the gym before work or cycle to the office, for example.

Research from Bristol University found that performance, time management and mental sharpness was consistently higher after employees had exercised – so physical activity will help your workers start their day productively.

  1. Make it as easy as possible
    Don’t give people an opportunity to avoid a workout. Make it as easy as possible for them to look after their health while fulfilling their work commitments at the same time.This could mean installing washing facilities and providing lockers and bike racks for staff.Much easier than providing extra equipment is to partner with a local gym and having training sessions where staff can work out together at times that suit the business.

Join businesses across the UK who’ve partnered with Wellhub to access a network of local gyms and successfully boosted their productivity. Find out more now.


Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.