Two-thirds of adults consider work to be the main cause of stress in their lives. In fact, Generation Z is experiencing poor mental health even before entering the workplace. This can have a knock-on effect that restricts creativity and their ability to perform at their best.
But you can do something about it. The mind can’t work at an optimal level without the body. Let’s talk about how integrating sports into your workplace can improve the mental health of your teams.
Please note, while sports and regular movement can be beneficial coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, they are certainly not the only ones.
How sports releases workplace stress
Our lives are becoming more fast-paced and interlinked, whilst at the same time we’re being overloaded with more and more information.
Stress has two sides: While intermittent levels of stress can push you to new levels of performance, an overload of stress is counterproductive and damaging to your health. To deal with high stress levels, there are proven coping strategies.
Body and mind go together. When stress affects the brain, the rest of the body feels the pain. The good news is that sport can help: Physical activity has a positive impact on the brain and reduces stress.
Exercise has shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and self-esteem and can even stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
That does not only include sports, but simple exercise routines like taking the stairs, yoga or a quick stroll through nature are mental breaks from what creates stress.
The advantages of taking breaks are many. Breaks work best if you stimulate the opposite of what you do all day. That means if you are sitting long hours, take a break to walk. Or if you’re thinking the whole day, spend your break meditating.
Choice and flexibility
Studies show that stress and burnout are lower among workers engaged in all types of workplace flexibility arrangements. Some examples include flexible working time, remote work, activity-based working, part-time work, job-sharing, expanded leave and many more.
All of them improve our ability to engage in physical activity.
Imagine you can choose when you are active, when you would like to take a quick walk or work out, instead of squeezing your health routines around rigid working hours.
That physical movement is important is not in question – the ability to exercise freely is.
Everyone’s energy peaks and falls at different times. That’s why it’s crucial to accommodate the diverse human needs that drive every individual’s energy. That means enabling employees to choose when and how they work best and when is their best time to be physically active or recover.
Employees with more access to workplace flexibility reported fewer mental health problems. They sleep better, report to make better lifestyle choices and experience less stress.
Support sustainable performance
What we must be conscious of, however, is if we blur the lines between work and life, we risk the chance to ‘always be on’, which inhibits the sustainability of our performance.
Make sure you empower your team to conscious off-time. Have clear arrangements when they are expected to be on and when it’s ok to disconnect.
Staying healthy means making sure you can perform over time. In the long term, sustainable, flexible arrangements trump short-sighted crunch times.
How to build an active workplace
As a global sports brand, adidas is naturally attracting talents to our global workplaces who are interested in sport, but improving your mental health in the workplace through sport is about much more than athleticism and team workouts.
Research on physical activity by the World Health Organization shows, that a moderate but regular amount of movement is most beneficial to health.
To a big extent, each employee is responsible to build healthy life habits, but companies should support their employees in that, to move more by building an active workplace.
Workplace tools to empower health
To create natural movement throughout the day, your workplace should accommodate spontaneity and flexibility. That can reach from swapping the elevator for stairs, to encouraging your employees to take lunch runs or walking meetings.
Working on our new workplace concept, we fought for the massive staircase which is now the heart piece of our Arena building. It might sound simple, but if you look at the science behind it, you’ll be surprised how crucial it is to ramp up on easily accessible movement opportunities like stairs.
We at adidas continuously dedicate ourselves to both, building naturally active workplaces and sporting fields. Buildings are generally farther apart, staircases at the center, walkways are wide, and employees can grab a bike to move between meetings.
Lockers and showers in office buildings allow people to run or cycle to work. Our sports facilities include fields for soccer, tennis, yoga, volleyball, climbing, and many more.
Additionally, with our headquarters located in southern Germany, we are surrounded by nature which gives perfect access to woods, fields and trails for any outdoor exercise:
Design for the human experience
Having a human-centric approach to your workplace goes miles. Insights about how employees are using your workspace will tell you what they need to improve their health.
You don’t need to build a gym, just provide access to sport. An example: Flexible working hours combined with gym vouchers will empower your employees to access physical activity at their needs.
The importance of culture
What’s most important for the empowerment of employees to exercise, is setting the cultural tone.
Social connection and self-expression:
Workplaces that support social connectedness and foster self-expression enhance employee well-being. Diverse teams function best if every single member can express themselves fully while still finding commonalities as a team.
Providing diverse sports options supports team-building activities, increases collaboration and helps to fuel self-expression.
People can bond over the love for a specific sport or simply the action of pushing each other to their limits. If people can show up with their true selves to work, they are less likely to experience stress or social anxiety.
On my first day 15 years ago, I was luckily smart enough to bring sports clothes to work and at lunchtime found myself running with the head of our department (and now our current CFO), Harm Ohlmeyer. This is what sets the scene: Leaders who live sports can take away the anxiety for people to do it themselves.
There is nothing stronger than seeing our CEO Kasper Rorsted working out in the morning or former head of Global Brands Eric Liedtke hitting the GYM at lunchtime. Role-model behavior from the top makes sure changes towards health are not only worth it but accepted.
If you want to build healthy routines into your workplace culture, leadership is much more important than infrastructure.
The takeaway is not rocket science. Listen to your people, provide them with the tools that enable greater flexibility and are centered on their human experience, and then create the workplace culture to support it.
You’ll create an environment where your teams can perform at their best because you supported their physical and mental health actively.