More and more, leaders are being told to step out of their corner offices and engage with their employees. But one CEO says simply hanging around the water cooler or hosting annual company parties isn’t enough to motivate employees. Instead, David Inns, CEO of GreatCall, a provider of mobile health and safety solutions, takes his employees surfing two or three evenings a week and organizes weekly Friday yoga sessions.
In addition to improving the health of his organization, engaging in fitness activities with employees had a number of benefits for Inns’s company:
Working out with employees was, for Inns, a way to create what he calls a “culture of motivation.” Getting out from behind the CEO’s desk and interacting with employees on a personal level, he says, helps to garner respect from employees and creates a culture where employees have respect for their CEO and will do what’s necessary to get the job done because they want to do their leader proud.
Dr. Jack Groppel, cofounder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and an authority on the science of human performance, says executive leadership is critical to employee engagement. While the old school of thought among CEOs was to relegate physical activity to the human resources department, new research shows that CEOs who encourage physical activity by becoming involved and participating with employees has a more direct impact on employees than a bunch of HR policies to encourage fitness.
Leading by example and role-modeling the behavior, says Groppel, motivates and encourages employees to engage in physical fitness activities and has an impact on the business’s bottom line.
Encouraging employees to work out together allows them to get to know their coworkers from other departments who they may not normally interact with, improving overall communication across teams. Engaging in fitness activities with colleagues also makes work more fun, and gives employees and leadership some familiar ground to bond over.
“As a father of four and being the CEO of a large company, it really can be stressful when you feel the weight of all the responsibilities you have on you,” says Inns. He finds his stress relief riding the waves and doing the downward dog, and has found that sharing these experiences with employees has helped to reduce stress levels among his staff and provide that jolt of energy that’s needed at the end of a hard work week.
Inns says getting out on the water enables him to step back and see solutions to problems that have been plaguing him more clearly. “I think when you dwell on an issue too long without being able to stand back, it becomes too clouded and you can’t see the right answer,” he says.
Often, the answer comes to him while he’s paddling out in the water. Inns wanted to share this perspective with his employees, improving employees’ ability to free up their minds and think clearly, allowing them to do their jobs more effectively.
“Engagement is one of the biggest dictating factors of a successful business,” says Groppel. When engagement goes up, so does performance and employee retention and loyalty. While the old school of business thought it best to separate the CEO from his or her people, today, Groppel says, it’s vital for employees to feel connected to the leader of the organization.
Physical activity itself also helps to improve engagement. In one study led by Groppel, a workforce whose members moved throughout the workday for 90 days was found to be more focused and energized. “The more focused you are, the more energy you have and the more engaged you are,” says Groppel. Inns says he has seen greater loyalty and engagement as a result of participating in physical activities with his employees. It’s also become a key selling feature for attracting new recruits.