Exercise Can Trim Fat — And The Boss’ Stress

As if talent managers needed any more evidence of the benefits of a wellness program. A recent study by Northern Illinois University’s College of Business found that moderate amounts of weekly exercise among supervisors helped promote healthier and less-abusive relationships with their direct reports.

Even just 30 or so minutes of walking once or twice weekly has the potential to act as a buffer to the work-related stresses that typically fray the boss-employee relationship, said James P. Burton, an associate professor of management at the university and one of the primary researchers of the study.

Because of continued high demand for productivity amid a tepid economic recovery, supervisors have been forced into working conditions fraught with mounting tension and stress.

The study — titled “Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise” — asked supervisors to state their exercise frequency and level of workplace stress. Their responses were matched with employees who had worked with them for at least two months. Results showed a correlation between supervisors’ increased stress levels and a higher rate of employees feeling subjected to abusive supervision.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to talent managers, considering the boss-employee relationship is one of the most — if not the most — important elements driving successful employee engagement and retention. As George Bradt, founder and managing director of executive on-boarding firm PrimeGenesis, told Talent Management in October, “People don’t leave companies. They leave because they don’t get along with their boss.”

Still, talent managers needn’t fear daily enrollment in a gym. “Just one or two days of 30 minutes of walking seemed to make a difference,” Burton said.

While it isn’t mandatory for talent managers to develop wide-ranging wellness programs, they can do their part by offering consultation or training that increases employees’ awareness of the personal benefits of wellness. That way, they’d be more inclined to exercise during their time away from work.

Some companies have taken wellness efforts a step further than simply offering employees training that encourage exercise and wellness.

Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. promotes its employees’ wellness by providing them with integrated workstations where they can stand and work at the same time. Some of these workstations are even equipped with treadmills underneath desks, so employees can choose to walk at a slow pace while they work. Other organizations offer similar benefits, such as gym memberships, on-site workout facilities and flextime for outdoor activities.

But talent managers don’t need to convince leaders to develop the habits of a marathon runner, weight lifter or yoga junkie — simple movements, such as walking, will best work to alleviate stress and promote healthier relationships down the chain of command.

“It was surprising that such little amount of exercise could do it,” Burton said.

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@talentmgt.com.