Employee Incentives: Embracing a Culture of Leisureology

Written by Paul Marchildon, on May 13, 2014.

When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. When is work not work? When it’s leisure. The concept of leisureology extends beyond the simple – though powerful – benefits of health and fitness. It’s a state of mind, rather than an activity. So, when is a gym not a gym or flextime not flextime? When they’re tools for employee motivation; when they nurture a culture of leisureology that doesn’t just blur the line between work and leisure, but erases it.

Far from a distraction, employee incentives – from gyms and flextime to healthy food and a culture-wide acceptance of leisureology – are prime motivators and catalysts for greater productivity, morale, and all ‘round good business.

Beyond the Gym

It’s not feasible for every company to host an onsite gym or cater gourmet meals. That’s fine. If you’re close to a gym and your employees can walk over, why not give them paid time to work out? Or subsidize their membership?

If you’re working with a tighter budget, why not provide them the space and time to prepare healthy snacks? Instead of buying a 400-calorie, energy sapping, sugar latte, they could grab their cold dip and veggies. Fostering a healthy culture doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot.

Employees Lacking Motivation?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to increase productivity by incorporating leisure into the workplace.

But consider “cost” beyond initial expense. I worked for a company that had a great gym, a beautiful sun-filled cafeteria, but horrendous food. Nightmare-inducing. The CFO had the opportunity to bring on a new catering company and ended up going with the lowest price. We were in the boonies…going out for lunch required a car.

This approach doesn’t save you much in the long run. If you have terrific amenities, including healthy food or fitness facilities, onsite, people don’t need to leave. They don’t need to take an hour and a half lunch break to get the experience they want. They can have it onsite, with more people around. And they’ll be all the more productive, engaged, and connected to their coworkers for it.

A study in the Population Health Management journal shows that exercising infrequently lowered productivity by 50 percent. Unhealthy eating decreased productivity by 66 percent. If you wonder how much people can get done in the afternoon after they scarfed down a fast food lunch, the evidence-supported answer is “not much.”

A Ripple Effect

The thing about the benefits of health initiatives at work is that they don’t stay at work. British researchers studied 200 workers at different sites (a university, life insurance firm, and computer company), who engaged in 30-60 minutes of exercise during their lunch breaks.

They found – not surprisingly – that people reported boosts in their time management skills, mental ability, mood, ability to meet deadlines, stress tolerance, and overall performance. What’s more, they went home feeling more satisfied with their day. I’ll make the leap and say they were probably more satisfied coming into work the next morning as well.

This is leisureology. It’s not the workout in the middle of the day or a meal of organic vegetables plucked just minutes ago from an onsite garden. It’s how you feel when you come back to your work. It’s feeling like, maybe, you’re not going back to “work” at all, but extending your productive leisure time.

A focus on health and wellbeing creates a ripple effect. Employees are less stressed, happier, more productive, and more loyal. They have the opportunity to connect and network with coworkers they otherwise wouldn’t, which can increase collaboration and breakout thinking – or just create good friendships, which have their own benefits. Employees talk up the company to their talented friends, who want to come experience the culture for themselves. The advantages, both for the individual and for the company, do not end.

Too often, employees have to make exercise a “secret.” They rely on “deskercise,” which doesn’t get the heart pumping or muscles firing. They feel guilty about taking an extra 15 minutes at lunch to do a workout or rushed because they want to exercise and eat a healthy meal.

The real distraction is not the gym, or the cafeteria, or the wellness programs; it’s the absence of them. It’s worrying about missing another workout or replacing another meal with crap. A culture of leisureology replaces these distractions with healthy motivators: it replaces “post-lunch dips” with greater productivity and dissatisfaction with renewed engagement and happiness. When is work not really work? For some companies, every day.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.