We all know employee fitness is a good thing and we all know it’s very hard for people to adopt healthier lifestyles. To tackle this problem, Dr. Toni Yancey has pioneered a simple but radical idea: give employees a fitness recess. The recess is simply a 5 or 10 minute break where everyone gets up and does a little exercise. The plan won’t turn employees into Olympic athletes but it can boost their energy and even a little exercise is far better than none.
It’s not hard to see that this would be a good idea. It can be hard to imagine just what it would be like in practice. Can you imagine your office suddenly beginning to exercise?
Think Meeting An easy way to envision how this would work is to think of a typical meeting. After 45 minutes, most people would be happy to get up and stretch. Yancey's idea is to simply make a little exercise break in meetings part of the standard protocol. We already have various routines around meetings such as starting with introductions or an agenda. There's no reason why it couldn't be standard practice to say, “Ok, we've been at this for 30 minutes, time for the mid-meeting stretch.”
At its least complicated, it could be as simple as “Let's all stretch”. Yancey would, however, recommend something a little more structured and with a little more activity –and you could educate people about that, maybe even have a little on-line video to guide you through it. But those kinds of enhancements are easy to imagine; the tough thing is that first step, that an instant recess in the middle of a meeting is both a good idea and not hard to do.
Think Office Many workers spend much of their lives in a cubicle, not in meetings. Yancey's recommendation for these workers is to have a certain time each day when everyone stands up and is led through a few simple exercises. At first glance it's hard to imagine, but we already have coffee breaks and lunch breaks so why not an instant recess? Most people will be happy to stand up for a moment and get away from the computer screen. Yancey suggests simply having a set time, let’s say 11am, when someone announces it's time for instant recess, and someone leads the office through some simple routines. Can you do such things while dressed for the office and not the gym? Yancey says yes, and it's just a matter of picking the right routine. This is not intended to be an intense aerobic workout, just something to get the blood flowing and the muscles limbered up.
Making in Happen If one thinks about implementing something like this, there are many logistical details to work through. Do we have music? What are the specific exercises? Is it 5 minutes or 10 minutes? The answers will depend on the situation but I don't think any of those issues are particularly hard to work out. The one missing ingredient to actualizing this vision of people taking a moment to exercise is senior leadership support.
It's unfortunate that in almost every HR initiative we come back to the advice that nothing can happen without senior leadership support. You wonder if HR has so little clout that they can't do anything on their own. But this is clearly a case where you won't get employees doing it without the visible encouragement of top management. If the CEO or head of the division comes down the first couple of times to lead off a recess, then it can happen. It's even better if he or she is able to say that they've been doing instant recess in management meetings.
Health and Habit Good health is largely a matter of good habits. People have all kinds of breaks in their day. If people have smoking breaks surely they can have a healthy break too; but it has to be facilitated by the organization or it's not going to happen.
The payoff is that once you get over the initial strangeness people will come to really enjoy the little breaks. As well as being healthy it can be fun and build a sense of camaraderie. And if your goal is to improve performance, you'll probably get more out of instant recess than redesigning the performance appraisal form.
To learn more look for Dr Yancey’s new book: Instant Recess: Building a fit nation 10 minutes at a time.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and speaking on human-capital management. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Europe and China. Mr. Creelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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