In a softly-lit room, the class stood shoeless and silent on rubber mats of various colors. Then Joy of Pilates instructor Emma Morgan directed them to move into a plank position. They obeyed, dropping to their mats and holding a pushup position for an extended period.
Neither Morgan’s direction nor the students’ movements were out of the ordinary for a Pilates class, but something about this class was a little different.
A large, flat screen monitor glowed blue on one side of the room, an automatic coffee maker sat atop a counter at the opposite wall and a classroom-style partition separated the room from the one adjoining.
The pseudo Pilates studio was actually a conference room at the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) administrative building just off of Hannegan Road. And the students were all WTA employees who, each week, forgo their lunch breaks and pool their money to pay a Joy of Pilates instructor for an in-office class.
Sandy McKenna, WTA human resources assistant, arranged the first class about a year ago and has kept with it since.
“Everybody really enjoys it,” McKenna said. “Everyone who has started it has stuck with it. After class it’s just a really great feeling. Your body feels good and you feel energized.”
And that energy probably improves her productivity. McKenna is certain the classes affect work performance.
“I would think a lot of people would get sleepy after their lunch and that doesn’t happen (after class),” McKenna said.
Pumping up productivity
There are economic benefits to having healthy employees, said Bo Wilde, Bellingham Athletic Club membership director.
“I think it makes the whole business run a little smoother,” he said. “Everyone feels better and more alert and awake.”
The result is reduced absenteeism, reduced stress and increased productivity, Wilde said.
At Bellingham Athletic Club, 70 employers currently pay for at least part of their employees’ gym memberships — some even cover the full cost. Adoline Brown, Chicago Title regional vice president and county manager, is one such employer.
“It’s a way to show them how much I appreciate them,” Brown said. “My employees are the reason our office is so successful.”
Every employer can choose how they want to reward employees, Brown said. She chose to give employees and their families gym memberships because the real estate industry can put a lot of pressure on them.
“I mean, everyone loves to have a bigger salary or a bonus or something, but this is a way I can help them manage their stress,” Brown said. “If my employees have managed their stress more effectively by using the gym, they will be able to manage their stress more effectively at work.”
While Brown’s motivation for providing employees with memberships is rooted in rewarding them, she said it likely helps the business, too.
“My general philosophy is if you treat your employees well you will benefit,” Brown said. “I feel like I have more satisfied employees. Employees that are well-treated are more apt to persevere during times of adversity and they are more loyal.”
Employee health and satisfaction is an investment, Brown said — whatever is contributed will come back one-hundredfold.
“The benefits are not really something you can measure, but I still believe they far outweigh the costs,” Brown said.
Dave Morris Jr., a title officer at Chicago Title, said the membership does make him feel more appreciated.
“To be able to get a membership to probably the nicest gym in town and not have to pay for it is a pretty good perk,” Morris said.
And working out before work or on his breaks makes Morris feel more awake, alert and confident, he said.
“You kind of have a swagger about yourself,” he said.
Brown said that translates into a can-do attitude when it comes to work.
Another benefit of the memberships is increased camaraderie. Morris works out with six or seven of his coworkers and said participating in that kind of non-work activity with them fosters friendships. And being friends with coworkers makes it easier to work with them, he said.
Joy of Pilates offers in-office classes as a regular service and currently serves two offices, but there have been others in the past.
In addition to the more standard Pilates classes, instructors have taught employees how to take care of themselves while they are sitting to avoid the back pain and problems associated with desk jobs, said Ella Eastham, Joy of Pilates studio director.
“Posture is so important for the work place,” Eastham said.
Fewer back problems means lower health care costs for employees and employers who provide medical benefits.
If anyone understands the hazards of sitting all day it’s WTA bus drivers. Fortunately for them, the administration decided to deck out a room at the headquarters with exercise equipment to help employees get their blood flowing.
“It’s to promote employee health and give people an opportunity to get some excersice throughout the day,” WTA human resources director Andy Rowlson said.
Wilde from Bellingham Athletic Club said providing employees with gym memberships can have the same effect, assuming employees actually go to the gym.
Bellingham Athletic Club offers a 20 percent discount on monthly dues and a 30 percent discounted joining fee for corporate clients with at least five members in their groups. Wilde said he’s seeing an increase in the number of employers taking advantage of these corporate rates to subsidize employee memberships.
And, as health care costs continue to increase, Wilde said he expects to see more businesses implement wellness programs to help employees get and stay healthy.