Imagine: Boardrooms with with balance balls, light-filled work stations, treadmills in the lobby, an in-house restaurant making nutritious meals, an office spa, and two-hour lunch breaks so employees can take advantage of it all.
Seven years ago, premium gym equipment manufacturer Technogym opened a 15-acre campus with all of these perks in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. Called “Technogym Village” and heralded as the “world’s healthiest workplace” by Forbes, it reflects founder and CEO Nerio Alessandri’s belief that investing in worker wellness—a lifestyle that prioritizes physical activity, healthy nutrition, and a positive mental approach over buff, toned bodies—is money well-spent.
Alessandri, who founded the billion-dollar company in his garage 36 years ago, points to 2017 World Economic Forum research that suggests that every dollar invested in corporate wellness programs results in a $4 return due to improved productivity, creativity, and motivation. Alessandri deflects the perceived awkwardness of exercising and sharing locker rooms with co-workers. Citing Technogym’s experience designing some 10,000 corporate wellness centers around the world, he argues that sweating it out with your colleagues (including your boss) is “a good way to improve communication and team building within the company.”
Apart from the beautiful modern campus and a range of free wellness programs such as fitness activities, stress management classes, meditation, and annual physical exams, the healthiest thing about Technogym Village may be its tempered attitude towards exercise. A counterpoint to Silicon Valley’s “fit supremacists“—startups that pressure employees to work out every day—Alessandri believes that group exercise at work is meant to be a fun activity that’s not required of any employee. “Being fit is not a duty for our team members, but for sure, being immersed in the Technogym Village environment every day makes people more active and motivated to exercise,” he tells Quartz.
But what about that hardcore exercise ball seating in meeting rooms? “The situation is not that radical,” Alessandri says. “Obviously people can choose whether to use wellness balls or a traditional chairs or even to alternate them.” The balls, he explains, are Technogym products designed to encourage the right posture, so the company wanted to make them available to employees and visitors.
Alessandri hopes that Technogym’s broad approach to employee health might inspire other organizations to address their own corporate wellness more intentionally. Wellness programs don’t necessarily require a massive exercise complex or even longer breaks, he explains. Simple acts such as encouraging employees to take stairs instead of elevators or offering changing rooms and showers to encourage people to cycle to work can make a big difference.