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The health and workplace benefits of team sports

Ultimate_Frisbee

Image taken from: www.ox.ac.uk

Last night, I ran back and forth across a playing field for a couple of hours with a bunch of friends trying to throw and catch a frisbee and score points against another team. Last night, I wasn’t very successful, and neither were my teammates. Thank goodness there’s more to it than winning! The point of our weekly games is getting together, having fun, exercising and maybe some skill-building. Winning is just a bonus—when it happens, which unfortunately isn’t that often!

I wasn’t playing with (or against) co-workers, but lots of companies or groups of employees do organize themselves into teams and play “competitively”. It might be baseball, or soccer, or touch football or ultimate frisbee; the teams might keep track of who won and who lost, and they might not; there might be a trophy or some other reward for the best team at the end of a season, and maybe not. As I said, the winning isn’t exactly the point. It’s really about camaraderie, sportsmanship and fitness.

Team activities, whether organized or informal, offer numerous health benefits—both physical and mental—and as a result, they can be a perfect fit for enhancing workplace wellness.

According to the latest Sanofi-aventis healthcare survey, companies gain many advantages by encouraging employee health through a workplace wellness program.

When administered properly, even something as simple as a walk or bike ride for a cause, or a clean-up-a-nearby-park day, can:

  • Support the physical and mental health of employees
  • Increase employee productivity and efficiency
  • Improve employee morale
  • Increase employee productivity
  • Decrease employee absenteeism
  • Reduce accidents and compensation claims
  • Reduce health care expenses and disability claims
  • Increase health awareness
  • Engender a healthier workplace culture
  • Support disease prevention and management
  • Support a corporate health vision
  • Improve the employer’s ability to attract and retain valued employees

(Check out this detailed list of the health benefits of exercise for a better idea of what employers and employees can gain from physical activity.)

Moreover, the survey found that employers that offer wellness programs receive better approval ratings from employees than those that don’t, and even better ratings when employees actually use those wellness programs.

Furthermore, the Conference Board of Canada has found that participating in sport:

“develops a wide range of skills and attitudes, including teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, decision-making, communications, personal management and administrative skills. Sport also builds character and personal qualities such as courage and the capacity to commit to a goal or purpose, as well as values such as respect for others, self-discipline, a sense of fair play and honesty.”

In other words, it’s a win-win situation. (So maybe winning is important after all!)

But, as I mentioned, it doesn’t have to be sport. There are probably more than a few people at your workplace who don’t want to play sports or feel intimidated. Activity is key, and offers many of the benefits of team sports. Yosie offers some examples of simple things employers can do:

  • Set up an early morning or lunch time running or walking program
  • Arrange employee-led aerobics or yoga classes in the workplace, or at a community centre or church facility
  • Provide bike racks, change rooms and showers for employees who want to cycle to work
  • Subsidize the cost of attending specific fitness or healthy living education programs at a community centre, college or YMCA
  • And, of course, sponsor an employee sports team

I wish I could say that my frisbee teammates are all co-workers, but it just isn’t the case. My colleagues live all around the Greater Toronto Area and beyond—too spread out to constitute an efficient team. Nevertheless, we have a fun potluck picnic day each year in a nearby park involving an epic croquet battle. I’m a poor hand with a mallet, but my competitive spirit forces me out onto the pitch.

And I always keep in mind: losing builds character!

What sort of active health initiatives does your company offer?

Subscribers to HRinfodesk.com can take a look at my recent commentary on the Sanofi-Aventis Healthcare Survey 2010, and also search the site for more information on “wellness programs” and “fitness”.

You might also want to take a look at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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