You may have designed your building to be healthy, but do you also provide ways for your employees and tenants to follow suit? Fitness amenities are a growing staple for Fortune 500 companies and local businesses alike. Corporations are getting employees moving with on-site workout facilities that pay for themselves.
A One-Two Punch
A workout facility is an outward statement of your company's commitment to its workers. It offers an activity-based space that promotes engagement and a sense of community. It increases worker performance through stress relief and improved concentration. Companies have found that in addition to being a hiring point, access to exercise areas reduces employee absenteeism and strengthens retention rates.
An on-site facility dramatically improves the likelihood of employees exercising. Tim O'Neil is the manager of employee health and financial wellness for the Meredith Corporation, a national publishing company located in Des Moines, IA. He has found that roughly 60% of employees will use a company fitness center one or more times a month. Without a on-site facility, only 20% will use a health club on their own accord.
"The bottom line is, if it's something employees have to do on their own outside of working hours, it's difficult to make exercise a regular habit. But if you can build it into their work schedules, you make it convenient and attractive for them," says O'Neil.
Workout facilities also come with environmental perks. By eliminating the need for your employees to drive off site to exercise, you can help reduce their carbon footprints. Daylighting, green cleaning, recycled or rapidly renewable flooring, low-VOC paints, previously used equipment, soy-based lubricants, and self-generated machines are simple ways to ensure these areas are as healthy for your building as they are for your occupants.
A corporate fitness area requires a tailored approach for each company, unlike the one-size-fits-all designs of health club chains. "No matter how much you're willing to spend, you can't simply put in a bunch of equipment and expect an instant fitness facility," advises Bryan Green, founder and managing partner of Fitness Design Group.
You want your recreation area to make working out convenient and accessible to your specific employee or tenant demographic. Design staples include a flexible space, a variety of equipment options, and an inviting setting. Seeking the advice of a fitness center consultant will help transform an empty space into a vibrant workout facility.
A consultant will plan the layout, order the right selection of equipment, account for the variety of exercise needs for your employee base, and ensure your fitness area is in line with your existing health programs.
"Regardless if it's a new or existing building, we try to identify the best space that we can use, including sufficient size to meet the daily anticipated demand of employee use," says Green. "Then we work backwards from there to set the exercise balance."
A consultant will also anticipate adjustments to your space, from changes in exercise modalities and technology to a complete repurpose. "Good planning allows for building great flexibility into the future use of the facility," says Green. "We're actually finding that a lot of the popular exercise modalities today –
like Pilates, yoga, and spinning – don't require as much equipment, but they require space and planning. A good consultant can help you with a phased approach to the life of the facility."
A professional opinion is invaluable when it comes to selecting exercise equipment. While you may have your own preferences, a consultant will make sure the equipment choices are diverse enough for your employees and appropriate for the space allocated. They can also help you navigate financing plans or equipment leasing programs.
A Homerun for Insurance
Regardless of square footage, recreation areas require a significant upfront investment. Few rebates, green building credits, or stimulus packages target exercise spaces. It falls directly on a company's discretion – and available capital – to create these spaces.
Providing employees with the opportunity to improve their health is as beneficial to your bottom line as decreasing your energy consumption. Insurance premiums can run millions of dollars annually. Slashing those percentages allows you to redirect funds to other areas like building improvements.
"Corporations are saying, 'Nobody knows our employees better than us. We can be more responsive, give them a private setting, and care for them better. Then if we document this, we can even reduce all of our health insurance premiums, including those that are passed on to the employees,'" says Green.
Meredith Corporation, a mid-sized company with over 3,000 employees, has felt the pinch in rising healthcare costs. From 2004-2006, the company experienced an 18.5% increase in insurance premiums. To help flatten this slope, wellness initiatives were documented and tabulated, from the percentage of recreation memberships to health screenings. Meredith not only halted the trend of double-digit increases, but slashed its insurance costs to below a 2% annual rise.
These efforts represent $8-10 million in savings, which is impressive given that it only cost Meredith $2 million to run the entire wellness program in that same time frame. The savings also trickled down to individual employees. Those participating in the wellness program saw a $500 annual reduction in their health insurance premiums.
Rockwell Collins, a producer of communications and aviation electronics, has one of Iowa's largest fitness facilities. Mike Duffy, the director of the recreation center, estimates over 1,500 people use the facility on a daily basis. "We have a 25% participation rate from employees, which is slightly higher than industry averages. We currently have about 5,500 rec members, plus 900 retirees," says Duffy. Rockwell takes in approximately $1.8 million a year for operation costs, all of which is cycled back into staff, equipment, and building costs.
Security Takes the Lead
Security for workout centers is more complex than other areas in your building. Camera placement is limited, traffic is constantly in flux yet peak times can create congestion, people are engaged in activities that can cause injuries or induce heart attacks, and hours of operation may extend past regular business hours.
"Safety has to be your primary concern. Your facility must accommodate the amount of traffic you expect to see, staff must be available to provide assistance, and the right emergency protocols should be in place," recommends O'Neil.
Despite these added dimensions, coordinating security for your fitness area can be as simple as adding it to your current protocols. At Meredith, employees access the recreation center with the same badge they use to enter the premise and must sign in with security for after-hours use. Rockwell employees have a separate membership card from their ID badges. Front desk staff sign in individuals for lockers and towels and an additional card reader is placed at the rear entrance.
In unsupervised fitness facilities, make early morning or late night walkthroughs an extended duty of your security guards. This is particularly important because cameras can only be placed on the main exercise floors, not in back areas like locker or changing rooms for privacy reasons.
It is also imperative that exercise areas contain an AED (automated external defibrillator) machine and staff have training for emergencies. Duffy recounts an incident where an elderly individual collapsed from a heart attack and died on the floor. A staff member used the AED machine to eventually revive him. Basic training in CPR, AED, and blood-borne pathogens should be required not only for fitness staff, but custodians and security as well.
Don't Bench Maintenance
Preventive maintenance and daily cleaning are the best formula for recreation centers. Spray bottles with an antibacterial/antiviral cleaner and a wipe-down towel are typically left at each piece of equipment. Floors, windows, locker rooms, and counters can be integrated into your maintenance staff's regular duties.
Dirt and grime – not user abuse – are common culprits of equipment damage, which typically comes from debris tracked in on footwear. Deicing agents and sand in the winter are particularly destructive. Rockwell has created a "clean shoe zone" campaign to encourage employees to work out in an extra pair of shoes.
O'Neil also performs regular inspections of all machines. "I check the equipment on a daily basis to make sure that it's functioning properly and to make sure that if there are any safety issues or needs, that we deal with those properly before allowing employees to use that equipment."
Much like changing your car's oil or rotating the tires, exercise equipment needs routine lubrication and replacement of belts and decks. Depending on the volume of your equipment, schedule quarterly to semi-annual maintenance. Anticipating regular wear and tear can significantly increase the longevity of your machines.
As a rule, servicing equipment is better left to professionals. Meredith contracts a local company, XTEC, for regular maintenance needs, while Rockwell has specially trained staff members on site. A professional will know how to repair multiple brands of machines, prepare an annual maintenance plan, and keep an eye on your warranties.
Walk the Talk
Regardless of upfront costs, on-site exercise areas are a smart investment in your employees and work environment. "Today we're seeing an increasing, consistent commitment by mid- to large-size employers alike that fitness is absolutely a go-forward component of employee wellness and benefits," says Green.
Jennie Morton (email@example.com) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.