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Marathons and Walkathons: Here's What Your Employees Want An Industrial Perspective on How Walkathons and Marathons Help Employees and Teams in Their Performance

By Amitabh Behar

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According to The World Health Organisation, adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. WHO further states that physical activity is applicable for all adults irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or income level and also applies to individuals in this age range with chronic non communicable conditions not related to mobility such as hypertension or diabetes.

Apart from having great health benefits, exercise has a positive impact on the brain. In the words of Professor Wendy Suzuki, a Neuroscientist at New York University, exercise ensures "better mood, better energy, better memory, better attention".

We are living in times when lifestyle of working professionals is a leading cause of diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthrosis and breast cancer. People across the world are living a sedentary lifestyle and are making everyday decisions based on comfort than health benefits. Simple decisions like taking a bus, walking post lunch or dinner, crossing over to a colleague's desk to speak with them or taking the stairs have been trumped by the comfort of machines—picking the phone to talk to the colleague, watching Netflix post dinner, cabbing it to work and using the elevator to rush to the office.

Along with these comfort-infused choices, the corporate work environment of long working hours, tight-deadlines, stress, eating at odd-hours and long commutes are factors compounding to the poor health conditions seen in many working professionals today. However, the good news is that young professionals and even those in senior leadership positions are aware of these risks. They are looking to work for organisations which promote work-life balance, a culture of fitness and even social responsibility.

On an Organisational Level

Organisations are willing to invest millions on different strategies to attract potential employees and to retain them by ensuring high job satisfaction, happiness and friendly team-culture. There are several studies conducted in India which show that on an average more than half the workforce in the country is dissatisfied and unhappy with their jobs. This makes it even more crucial for organisations to design their strategies based on three principles – trust in employees, organisation's social commitment and team-building.

Many organisations commit the mistake of forgetting that their employees are adults. They fail to trust them with simple decisions. A common example is the use of biometrics to record working hours. While the organisation, in its vision or mission for the staff, could emphasise on their commitment to trust their employees, their everyday systems show otherwise. While it could be a mandate or requirement, breaking away from this rule can show that the organisation is willing to walk the talk. The corporate sector can take a cue from the non-profit sector where time-punching is certainly not a parameter of judging performance.

The other principle to strategize over is creating belief in the organisation's social commitment. Research has dubbed millennials across the world as the "giving generation'. They believe in volunteering, charity and want to be part of a socially responsible business. Unlike the non-profit sector, employees in the corporate sector are unable to see their jobs benefit people and society. However, each organisation has a social responsibility and must treat it as a commitment rather than a burden or public relations activity. Employees want to be part of causes that mean something to them or that help them change their outlook towards life.

The last principle is of team building which is also perhaps the most talked about. When managers build great teams, the organisation sees the benefit and grow with the team. The best organisations work on the idea of collaborations.

One of the best ways to marry these three principles and yet make it exciting for your staff to experience them is by being part of cause- focussed fundraising walkathons or marathons. Imagine, teams of four employees from across the organisation walking 100km together, spending days practicing, fundraising for a cause and then completing the tiring journey in 48 hours. Organisations who have participated in such walkathons for a cause have reported higher motivation levels amongst participating employees, better team-understanding at workplace and the desire to continue engaging in fitness-based activities.

Team Building

Team-building activities, which are aligned to a cause like climate change, gender justice, human rights or creating an equal world, can promote a collaborative, open and efficient work-culture. It also exposes the staff to a world different than theirs-- a world where women walk for hours to fetch water, where young girls are forced to leave school due to poverty, where people have lost their homes due to floods or where families have been paying health-related debts. This experience can help them value their work and also make them compassionate to their peers from diverse backgrounds.

Walkathons certainly require more time, effort on the part of the organisation and the employee but the results can be overwhelming. Moreover, since the employee himself/herself takes the pain of working towards the organisation's commitment towards a cause, their affiliation with his/her company's belief increases. This makes them more likely to stay with the company.

It also promotes a vibrant fitness culture, where teams and peers motivate each other to prepare for the next big 100 km walk. Challenges like these send subliminal messages of health awareness and compassion towards those who come from diverse backgrounds or knowledge. It builds the idea of collaboration, ensures that people trust each other, especially when their success depends on the other participant. In some walkathons, all team members are required to complete the walk, so people feel responsible for each other.

Leading by Example

One of the best rules of managing people is to lead by example. When leaders participate in physically challenging tasks, their teams feel inspired. Top leaders, CEO, senior level executives today understand the power of physical fitness and good health. Over the years, their participation in marathons, triathlons, walkathons have seen a surge. They talk about sharing their experiences—celebration of victories, moments of weakness and the joy of giving back to the society with their teams. They have witnessed their relationship strengthened with their teams, peers and the organisation as well. It has built their personal "brand" of leadership and also opened space for casual conversations which has created a friendlier work environment.

There are hardly any shortcuts or one size fits all plan for improving performances but constructive cultural changes, adopting out-of-the box innovative models of employee engagement and consistently working to build trust is a strategy that could change the game.

Amitabh Behar

CEO of Oxfam India

Amitabh Behar is the CEO of Oxfam India. As Chief Executive officer, he spearheads the organizations vision to fight against inequality, poverty and injustice in the country, besides carrying forward its humanitarian work.

He has over 22 years of experience as a civil society leader. Amitabh is a former Executive Director of National Foundation for India. He got recognition for his work on governance accountability, social and economic equality, and citizen participation.

He is one of the leading experts of people-centric advocacy and chairs organizational boards of Amnesty International India, Navsarjan, and Yuva. He is the vice board chair of CIVICUS and also sits on the board of other Organisations like Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), Mobile Crèche, VANI, Global Fund for Community Foundation (GFCF).

Amitabh holds an M. Phil in Political Science from Jawahar Lal Nehru University. He was also a research fellow at the University Grants Commission.

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