Engaged by activity


Before getting to the meat of this post I’m going to issue a disclaimer – I have a bit of a problem with ‘sports’ in the UK. By some twist of competitive fate, we have  a situation where physical activity is less about the joy of participation and achieving and more about competition and discomfort. Many peoples’ school memory of sports directly relates to the choosing of winners and the relegation of losers. As an adult, I see a recreation industry promoting physical activity as a way to achieve health and obesity goals through the least painful path. Participants are made to do something even though there is a tacit implication they won’t enjoy it, and that’s a shame.  Being physically active isn’t about achieving what the media tells us is the perfect figure or hitting obesity targets. It’s not about making yourself unhappy in order to conform – not for me anyway.


To me, physical activity is about the sheer fun of play. It’s about the camaraderie of the shared experience, the cleared head, and the smile at the end of an exhausting session when you’ve given your all. Or maybe you’ve not given your all,  but you’ve chatted to old and new friends and found new purpose, ideas and inspiration. For organisations it’s about opportunity: the opportunity for people to integrate away from conventional hierarchy or function, to mix socially in ways not available in the normal working day. To share ideas and feel a sense of achievement, even on days when the 9 to 5 tasks felt mundane and unproductive (and let’s be honest, everyone has some days like this). The evidence for engagement initiatives for long term success (both financially and emotionally) is overwhelming.


Esteemed research and consultancy organisations including Gallup and Towers Perrin show that a high level of employee engagement results in significantly higher levels of attraction, retention and productivity.Obviously physical activities are not only way to engage your organisation, but since the sun has finally come out and I’ve got running club tonight that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on. Historically, physical activity of all varieties has been a binder and leveler of communities irrespective of type, culture or continent. Churches, villages, trade unions and large corporations have all embraced the importance of teams and groups based around physical activity to cement their community. However, there is no reason why smaller companies can’t do the same.

In practice

Docnet, a Manchester e-commerce agency I work with encourages physical activity in its staff through a bike to work scheme and free / subsidised entry to events including triathlons and adventure races. Directors and staff train together when they can and results  are celebrated across the business. It is just one way Docnet is working towards being an organisation that is ‘totally attractive’ – embracing the value of its culture to attract, retain and engage with the best companies in an industry where bigger beasts are competing for the same talent.


As a starter, here’s some things your organisation can do to enhance engagement and work towards a happier, healthier and more productive environment:

Start a running or cycling group

Sign up for an event and train together

Offer junior members of staff the opportunity to plan activities that everyone at all levels participates in

Walk together – it’s not just in TV dramas where decisions are made ‘on the hoof’.  Walking together and looking forward often leads to greater creativity and understanding

Even better, ask your staff what they’d like to do.  The answers may well surprise and inspire you.  Then no matter how busy you become, make sure these activities continue so long as staff still want them.

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