Ask any HR professional whether they would like to know about a way to increase productivity without overburdening employees and chances are that they would jump at the opportunity to find out more. Interestingly enough, however, some managers are still hesitant to implement a scientifically proven method that boosts productivity while reducing work hours. In other words, they would be able to improve the bottom line without having to pay employees for working overtime.

The issue at hand is whether companies should allow their workers to exercise while on the job. Stockholm University research clearly shows that they should do so because working out invigorates the body and mind and increases productivity in a way that more than compensates for the time that is invested in exercise. Before condemning any executive for not immediately implementing an exercise programme, lets acknowledge that, intuitively, this seems to fall into the “too good to be true” category. After all, if making workers more productive through exercise were that easy, why isn’t every company doing it already?

Research shows link between exercise and increased productivity

One of the reasons is that most of the findings on the subject are fairly new. The Stockholm University research that is often cited as one of the studies that pulled the curtain back on the link between workplace exercise and productivity was not published until 2011. Specifically, it found that, at worst, employees who exercised for 2.5 hours each work week got as much done with their time as the people who did not work out did in their regular hours. Add to that a reduction in absenteeism and an increase in self-assessed productivity and there is a clear net benefit for an employer.

Since then, other studies have followed suit, looking at various aspects of the link between exercise and productivity. In addition to stimulating brain and body, various studies have shown that exercise makes people happy, which in turn makes them more productive.

It is one of the reasons that so many companies on the cutting edge of technology have embraced this research. At Google, for example, employees can get massages, do yoga or exercise all while “at work.” Many other tech companies have similar programmes because they believe that it is essential to have happy employees in order to get the most out of them. Not only that, but by providing perks in the workplace, Google gives employees a reason to stay on site longer. This in turn leads to productive work-related conversations between people who are off the clock, but still in the office to use the exercise equipment.

No need to follow Google to have an effective programme

This does not mean that every business should or even could immediately copy what Google is doing, but companies must realise that it is in their interest that employees work out – for many more reasons other than the obvious benefit of increasing productivity.

As the Stockholm University researchers pointed out, having healthy employees results in fewer work days lost due to sickness. As any HR professional knows, the cost of absenteeism is staggering. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, UK businesses lose nearly £30 billion annually due to lost work days. While that cost has gone down a bit, research has also shown that people now go to work sick because they worry about their job security, which also has negative consequences for a business.

Apart from the productivity benefit of having healthier and happier employees, there are other advantages of putting a smile on the face of workers. Allowing them to step away from their desk for a workout will certainly increase their job satisfaction. A regular exercise routine gives people more energy when compared to their sedentary counterparts, which in turn leads to a more productive and enjoyable work life. In the same vein, allowing employees to exercise at work will also help with recruitment and give candidates a favourable view of your company.

How important exactly is job satisfaction? Acclaimed author Shawn Achor says his research shows that a happy and engaged workforce is the “single greatest advantage in the modern economy” that increases sales by 37%, productivity by 31% and accuracy on tasks by 19%.

A true win-win

And herein lies the brilliance for executives who institute an exercise programme: they give their workers a perk while benefitting from it all the same.

With all of these advantages, employers should not just allow employees to exercise but try to make sure that they actually do so. Simply providing a discounted gym membership will not be nearly as effective as allowing employees to work less but to use that extra time specifically to exercise.

This raises a potential problem for executives of small and medium businesses who will not have the resources to install a gym or still feel uneasy about allowing their limited staff time off during the day just to work out.

New technology helps employers

Fortunately, new technologies in the fields of personal fitness and exercise equipment now allow most businesses to enjoy the benefits of an effective on-site workout programme that is both cost and time efficient.

For example, using high-intensity interval training methods sharply reduces the time needed to get the full benefit of a workout. It is possible to get the same benefit as a 45-minute jog in mere minutes. This has proven very popular in workplaces.

Our own research has shown that only 10% of employees at a large company used the gym in the basement three times a week. However, 60% of them used the 10-minute workout offered by our high-tech exercise bike. Since we only recommend three sessions a week, this workout takes a total of 30 minutes– which is the equivalent of about one cigarette break per day.

Some businesses are even combining work and workout with treadmill desks that keep employees moving while doing their jobs. They have also shown to increase productivity, but are less affordable than other alternatives, such as providing a couple of machines for communal use.

Many companies are also encouraging their employees to participate in charity walks, runs or bike rides. This is a very cost-efficient way for businesses that don’t want to purchase or rent equipment or provide free gym memberships. It also helps with team building and is great way of showing the outside world that your business is committed to giving back to the local community.

Forward-looking executives also recognise another reason for putting in place programmes that keep their employees healthy. It is possible that governments will soon begin to regulate or incentivise corporate wellness programmes in order to reign in increasing healthcare costs. The United States has already begun doing so in the Affordable Care Act.

While some executives might still view giving employees time off to work out as an extravagance, science, simple economics and an increasing move toward providing workers with incentives all indicate that not having such a programme will place them at a disadvantage.