Exercising power: why corporations are making you sweat

Jump to it: Research has shown a direct link between the health of an employee and their performance in the workplace. Photo: Rob HomerCorporations are encouraging employees to work their bodies before the grey matter, but does exercise actually make people better leaders?

There’s evidence that suggests it does. Today’s working conditions are more demanding and competitive than ever before with corporations constantly looking for ways to get more from employees and enhance their bottom line.

Research shows there is a direct link between the health of an employee and their performance in the workplace. Workplace stress costs the Australian economy more than $10 billion a year, healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees and unhealthy employees take nine times more sick leave.

And while marathon training and predawn workouts aren’t explicitly part of a senior manager’s job description, leadership experts and executive recruiters say that participating in sporting corporate culture can accelerate your career.

Specialist recruitment agency and corporate sponsor of the Nissan Triathlon, Michael Page’s managing director Matthew Cook explains: “Joining an organised sporting event or wellbeing program provides workers with the chance to engage with peers and management in an environment outside the office where everyone is equal. This is an opportunity to share ideas, form impressions and present as a well-rounded, team-oriented candidate for promotion.”

Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills’ head of banking practice Erin Wakelin believes physical health should be encouraged and prioritised by leaders. While many corporations assist through fundraising and sponsorship for charity sporting events, Wakelin has been the driving force behind a number of initiatives, including group exercise sessions and pregnancy yoga.

“A firm is the people in it and if you have healthy people you’re more likely to have a healthy culture … I don’t mean that in the sense of everyone being health nuts, I mean that in the sense of everyone being happier, vital and energetic,” she says.

Wakelin has invested in corporate health programs run by Greg Stark, founder and director of Better Being, a team of university qualified exercise professionals whose corporate clients also include ANZ, Red Balloon, Merivale and high-level executives from Macquarie Bank and Nokia.

“We approach the training the same way we would train professional sportsmen, which is my industry background,” explains Stark whose career history includes working with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and training retired Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Bosnich.

“Corporate executives tend to be high achievers so the same principles apply. While it’s crucial not to burn out an athlete’s body, our training approach is to guard against mental burnout, while providing workout and nutritional advice that fits around our client’s corporate lifestyle.”

Here Stark shares Better Being’s Busy Corporate Exercise Program. He explains: “Australians spend on average 9.5 hours sitting everyday (which is more time than you do sleeping). Sitting is the new smoking for our generation, so get moving. Take the stairs, walk the long way to the bathroom, fill up a jug of water, every little bit counts.”

To alleviate stiffness and tightness caused by tissues fusing from extended periods of sitting – a regular office worker complaint – complete the following moves at moderate tempo for 30 seconds each every 2-3 hours.

The Merv: stand with feet shoulder width apart raise your arms above your head and lean to one side pushing your hips in the opposite direction and repeat leaning the other way.

The Washing Machine: with feet shoulder width apart, hold your arms at chest height and rotate side to side using your whole body.

The Swinging Gate: stand on one leg with the other knee bent at 90 degrees, with the bent leg in air drive the knee in a big semi-circle around the body just as though a gate that is closing and opening.

The Warrior: take a long stride with front knee bent back leg straight and on the toe, rest hands on your hips and push your pelvis forward and back, for that extra stretch you can reach the hands above the head. Change legs and repeat.

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