Opinion

Would you dock pay if staff didn't hit the gym?

5 min read

04 December 2018

Charlie Mullins discusses a Chinese policy which sees employees have their pay packets docked unless they hit workplace exercise targets!

I’m a huge fan of the noble art of boxing and in my younger days I was pretty proficient in the ring at an amateur level.

As a young kid from Camden Town – like many a youngster from a less than privileged background – boxing provided me with a physical release and also taught me important life skills in discipline, determination and hard graft.

The link between physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle is well established. That’s one of the reasons I set up the Pimlico Plumbers’ gym, available free to all my people on a 24/7 basis.

After all, they are the company’s biggest asset and remain key to the business’s growing success. Taking care of their wellbeing is more than a tick-box benefit, but a genuine attempt to improve their general physical and mental health.

As a result, we are getting more people through our gym doors as the word-of-mouth benefits of exercise spread.

I’ve also recently added new machines, extra exercise classes, led by Pimlico’s two personal trainers, and have fitted a fantastic new sound system to add further encouragement.

However, I’m not so sure about the rather more heavy handed approach they’re taking in China – where employees are having their pay packets docked unless they hit workplace exercise targets!

One company in Guangzhou is dictating that its staff must take a minimum of 180,000 steps a month – the equivalent of 62 miles! For every 1,000 steps they fall short, they lose ten yuan – just over a quid – from their wages.

Another company has set a 10,000 step daily target, and those failing to keep up must perform punishment push-ups.

According to a report in The Times, supporters of the scheme say some workers are ditching previously sedentary lunch breaks in favour of speed walking or jogging.

But tellingly, one has branded the target unreasonable, given their heavy workload, saying workers only take part to avoid losing cash.

Now, the last time I checked, we in the UK aren’t part of a giant Communist state hell-bent on controlling every aspect of its citizens’ lives.

There is a problem with obesity in the West – which is obviously now ‘spreading’ to China – but I’m not about to force my people to keep fit. That really is reversing an incentive.

This country is built on a system of free choice, which is why I’ve provided fantastic free gym facilities which people want to use.

This Chinese fitness ‘policy’ has at least stimulated the debate on whether companies  have a responsibility to keep their staff in good shape – which, I stress, should not include docking wages or punishment exercise!

Neglecting employees’ wellbeing is detrimental to a business and any forward thinking firm must do all it can to keep staff motivated and in good health.

It might not appear on the balance sheet straight away, but such initiatives will pay financial dividends in the form of fewer sick days, reducing worker turnover and increasing productivity.

An annual survey by professional body CIPD earlier this year found organisations in the UK are moving in the right direction.

It surveyed 1,021 organisations – covering 4.6 million employees – to examine trends in workplace absence and health.

It found two fifths have a standalone well-being strategy, although almost one in five admit they are doing nothing to promote health and wellbeing.

Most believe those initiatives which are in place are having a positive effect on employee morale, the creation of a healthier and more inclusive culture and reducing sick days.

Should UK companies be forced to provide their workers with such facilities? It’s plain to see the mutual benefits for both workers and businesses.

Those companies who fail to adopt a more enlightened approach to staff welfare are definitely missing a trick. But it must be their choice and not the result of a Communist dictat.