Employers engage with corporate physical activity programs to foster employee wellbeing with a view to reducing the costs of absence and recruitment. This study reports on employee engagement with a commercial program, the Global Corporate Challenge, in terms of motivation, barriers, team dynamics, social aspects and self-reported physical activity levels. It uses guided introspection to explore how participation affected employee's motivation to sustain regular physical activity within the workplace setting. The program raised awareness of employees' individual physical activity levels and fostered social interaction in the workplace. Findings highlight the importance of employers providing a supportive context, fostering staffled team formation and considering motivational readiness of employees. They offer insights into how programs can be supported and constrained by the workplace culture.
Keywords: corporate wellbeing programs, health promotion, leisure time physical activity, workplace health
The health risks posed by physical inactivity in the developed world are at levels comparable to the risk factors of smoking and alcohol use (Begg et al., 2007; WHO, 2008). According to the World Health Organization (2002:60), physical inactivity, the main contributor to obesity, is estimated to cause, "globally, about 10-16% of cases each of breast cancer, colon and rectal cancers and diabetes mellitus, and about 22% of ischaemic heart disease". The health impacts of physical inactivity thus translate into significant direct and indirect financial costs to the economy and society.
The costs of employees with poor health can be measured in terms of productivity losses, sick days and compensation associated with illness. In Australia, illness costs Australian businesses $37 billion per year (Human Resources, 2005), with estimates by Access Economics (2008) indicating that the financial productivity costs of obesity alone amount to $3.6 billion, a two-fold rise since 2005 (Access Economics, 2008). These figures clearly show that employee health is increasingly becoming a critical business issue as improved health could translate to considerable direct cost savings for employers (Chapman, 2005; Haines et al., 2007). Organisations must recognise that good general health in workers can be encouraged by employers and is good for business (Human Resources, 2005). For example, since implementing free health assessments and workshops for their staff, the Accor hotels group have reported increasing staff participation in these activities, and increased staff retention within the company overall (Human Resources, 2006). Similarly, the Eastman Chemical Company in the United States attributes profit gains and a sales increase in part to the implementation of a charter that includes employee wellbeing (Milliken, 1997).
To date, the importance of employee wellbeing at work has been a neglected area of inquiry in human resource management (Baptiste, 2008). Bannister (2005) suggests that Australian employers are beginning to realise that investment in the health of their employees can bring real business benefits. However, the workplace is still underutilised as a site to promote healthy lifestyles and many workplaces, with their high level of labour-saving devices, contribute to poor staff health by encouraging sedentary behaviour (SAPAC, 2007; Henley and Redmond, 2006; Richmond et al., 1998). Over a lifetime, employees spend more than four times as long in the workplace compared to engaging in leisure activities, highlighting the importance of incorporating exercise into the work environment (Get Moving Tasmania, 2006). Urwin (2006:12) proposes that workplaces should actively deliver and facilitate health promotion because "during working hours, the workforce is more susceptible to health education programs such as healthy eating, smoking cessation and stress prevention". Increasingly, pressure is also coming from employees who expect their company to promote wellbeing, particularly as workers perceive human resource managers as guardians of employees' interests, including their wellbeing (Renwick, 2003). …