Exercise and Productivity
A founder and friend, Sean Kelly, recently posted on LinkedIn that he was thinking about creating an incentive program at his Company, Carroo, that encourages exercise to the same degree that they incentivize the achievement of quarterly performance goals. His thesis was that even a small amount of daily exercise — 20 minutes per day — would tremendously benefit the members of his team, his company and the entire world. He asked his LinkedIn network for suggestions on how to incentivize his team.
For anyone that knows me, you can imagine that I lit up when I read this post. I wholeheartedly agree with Sean’s thesis because I believe that daily exercise is a key ingredient for mental health, unlocking productivity, and ultimately, greater success.
In this post, I am going to first dive deeper into why I believe that daily exercise will improve business productivity and then offer my top ten solutions for how to incentivize team members to incorporate daily exercise into their routine.
The Science Behind Exercise
Numerous studies indicate that healthy people live happier and more productive lives. One study conducted at the Eastern Ontario Research Institute found that people who exercised as little as twice a week for ten weeks felt more competent socially, professionally, academically, and athletically. Another recent study by the CDC suggests that exercise is not just good for your body, but improves mental health as well. The study concluded that among the participants that exercised, the number of reported poor mental health days dropped by more than 40%.
The reason for this is partially rooted in science and biochemistry. When exercising, the body produces endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce the perception of pain, improve immunity, and help you relax. Endorphins are natural mood boosters that enhance feelings of optimism and satisfaction. I like to think of them as “happiness hormones.” Exercise promotes the generation and release of endorphins, while reducing the activity of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, which promote feelings of anxiety and tension. As a result, regular exercise can help you attain a happier state of mind, an impact translating to more productive, creative and thoughtful work.
I am proof of these claims. Simply said, when I am exercising, I am more energized, productive, and clear minded. When I am not, I often feel lethargic, stressed, and less focused. Endorphins are the most incredible drug known to mankind. Once I was turned on to the power of this natural high, I was addicted. It’s my goal to maximize success at PowerPlant and our portfolio companies, so I will continue to exercise daily and share this energy with my team and everyone I do business with.
Top 10 Ways to Incentivize Team Members to Exercise Daily
Lead by example: As the CEO/Founder, it’s your job to lead. My team knows that I am a fitness enthusiast and that I workout every morning at 5:45am. It’s on my calendar which is open for my entire team to view. While I have a demanding work schedule and family life, I also continue to compete in numerous races and adventures (marathons, trail races, climbing expeditions) throughout the year and always add one annual “OOCZ” (Out Of Comfort Zone) race or adventure to my calendar. I do it because I enjoy it, but I also do it because I know it inspires others.
Talk about it: I talk about my workouts and ask my team members about theirs. It is part of my “water cooler” talk. I do this purposefully so that it motivates everyone and naturally becomes part of the culture.
Health and fitness related events: PowerPlant’s team retreats and events are not revolved around eating and drinking. Instead, our retreats always involve the outdoors and fitness. For our most recent retreat, we took the team to Zion National Park for three days. We rock climbed, hiked, got in some trail runs, and sunrise yoga sessions. Another one of my favorite events was a cold plunge challenge after a big hike at a team offsite we hosted in the Santa Monica Mountains. And most recently, my business Partner, Mark Rampolla, and I summited Mt. Baker (elevation 10,786’) in Washington State over the course of three days for our “Partners Retreat.”
Incentive programs and tracking: There are numerous new apps and trackers to monitor physical activity and wellness. Some of my favorites to check out: Spotsyou.com, Sprout, Wellable, or even engage in a step challenge using your Apple watch or other fitness tracking device.
Health stipend: PowerPlant offers every employee a monthly health and wellness stipend that can be applied to gym memberships, fitness classes, and/or race registrations, etc. We have a use it or lose it policy and I can tell you that everyone uses it!
Team races/events: Sign your team up for a race. I highly recommend a team focused event such as a Spartan Race. I particularly like obstacle races because they are more than just a road race, they mimic business. What I mean by this is that you never know what obstacle you will encounter on the course, you get muddy, you get bruised, you fall on your face, and ultimately you have to work with your team and get back on your feet to cross the finish line.
Walking meetings: Whenever I can, I walk and talk. Zoom fatigue is real. I take calls while walking nearby trails or paths (sometimes with a 25 lb weight vest, in case anyone is looking to take this idea to the next level). And whenever I can have an internal meeting that does not require a computer, we do it “on the move.”
Office Gym: First, if you can add a full gym to your office, that is a great perk. In my prior office we had a full gym and karate dojo to train in. If you don’t have the space, then it’s easy and cheap to simply add a pull-up bar, exercise bike, some kettle bells, TRX straps, and yoga mats in the office. Even if team members casually walk by the pull up bar on their way to the bathroom and complete ten pull-ups, that is ten times more than they would have done had it not been there.
In person or virtual team workouts: Our team recently hiked to the top of Mt. Tam in our office town of Mill Valley, just outside of San Francisco. It’s a beautiful 2,500 ft hike that often takes you above the marine layer of Northern CA, with 360-degree views of downtown San Francisco, Sonoma, and the Pacific Ocean. We did this at 5:30 am and were back in action for a full day of productive work. Also, during Covid I led weekly virtual bootcamps for our team and portfolio company team members. I loved seeing 50+ of us doing burpees on Zoom!
Personal development KPIs/OKRs:This year, in addition to everyone on our team having performance OKRs, we added a section for personal development OKRs. The objective was to encourage the team to work on things outside of the office that would benefit them both personally and professionally. I was fascinated seeing the diversity of objectives and goals, ranging from improving their public speaking capabilities, to studying corporate law, daily journaling, etc. But, the one goal everyone shared in common was fitness related. I know Katie’s goal is to run a 7:30 min/mile. I know Jigar’s goal is to workout five days a week in the gym. I know Mark’s goal is to compete in at least one outrigger race. And my team knows I plan to climb a mountain and compete in the Worlds Toughest Mudder. We are now all accountable to each other.