Essi Isohanni treenaamassa ulkokuntosalilla.
“Our employer told us the time and place where we should meet. A personal trainer came to the gym to supervise the workout. That’s how it began,” says Essi Isohanni, Head of Competence Development at Vincit.

Small solutions can be beneficial

News article

The endurance levels of the Finnish population have fallen so low that the issue poses a severe threat to employees’ ability to function. Nobody can be forced to exercise, but employers can do something to help make it possible.

The words of Tommi Vasankari, Director of the UKK Institute, an organization focusing on health-enhancing physical activity, come as a shock.

“In the coming decades, we will no longer see employees over 50 in any jobs that are even slightly physically demanding.”

The institute has examined the endurance levels of Finns and found that they are deteriorating at an increasing rate.

The endurance of Finns has decreased and being overweight has become more common for decades, but the UKK Institute predicts that it will not be long before the situation becomes so bad that it poses a severe threat to employees’ ability to function.

This will also jeopardize the social goal of extending working careers and improving the productivity of work.

Unless something is done, Finnish society and business life will face major problems in just 10–20 years, because employees will be overweight and not exercise enough. Many will not be able to continue working until retirement age – especially considering that retirement age is constantly being raised upward.

Employers can also do a thing or two

Tommi Vasankari points out that nobody can be forced to exercise or lose weight. But employers can still do a thing or two to help promote exercise as a hobby. If the employees are in better physical shape, this will also benefit the employer in many ways.

“Employers can encourage their staff to exercise by offering various recreational vouchers, which can be used to pay for visits to a gym or a swimming pool, for example.”

According to Vasankari, exercising while commuting can be promoted, for example, by providing places to store bicycles and allowing employees to take showers at the office.

“Even small solutions can be beneficial. A lunch benefit can encourage employees to walk to some place outside the office instead of eating their own snacks in the break room.”

Unless something is done, Finnish society and business life will face major problems, because employees will be overweight and not exercise enough.

Vasankari believes that employers should try to shift the overall workplace culture to create an exercise-friendly environment.

Vasankari has a special message to the readers of TEK Magazine.

“Graduate engineers are used to numbers and measuring things. This makes it easy for them to track their physical activity using an app downloaded on their phone, for example. Monitoring your weight is simple. It's also easy to keep track of whether you reach the classic goals, such as 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity or at least an hour of vigorous physical activity per week. Or the famous 10 000 steps per day.”

University and Vincit provide support

How do employers support the physical activity of their employees? TEK Magazine decided to find out from two workplaces in Tampere, the university and Vincit.

Sari Pasto, Head of HR Services at Tampere University, starts off by saying: “We try to actively ensure good conditions for our staff to exercise.”

“Tampere University supports employee well-being by offering Smartum’s annual exercise, culture and well-being benefits to staff members. Employees also have access to a tax-free bicycle benefit, which can be used to obtain a bicycle for commuting and leisure use. In addition to this, our staff may spend up to one hour a week exercising during working hours.”

“The university staff may use the exercise facilities for students at a reasonable price. They can install an application on their work computer which reminds them when it's time to take an active break.”

Our staff may spend up to one hour a week exercising during working hours.
- Sari Pasto, Tampere University

How about the private sector? Here’s the answer given by HR expert Krista Forsström from Vincit, a company producing digital services.

“In addition to traditional recreational benefits, we have organized local exercise groups for our staff across the country and the possibility to try out different sports. The options include things like trail running and circuit training. Our staff may also participate in corporate yoga classes either in person or remotely,” says Forsström.

“We have reserved ice hockey, floorball and padel sessions for our staff. We also sponsor exercise clubs started by the staff themselves, if they include at least five of our employees.”

TEK members appreciate exercise benefits

Essi Isohanni, Head of Competence Development at Vincit, has long enjoyed running as a hobby.

“It's so easy to go running that I’ve never given it up. But I’ve always found it somehow difficult to start going to the gym and, for a long time, I didn’t know what to do about it.”

But then a supervised gym group provided by the employer changed Isohanni's attitude towards gym training.

“After a couple years of supervised training, I had the courage to start going to the gym on my own as well.”

When forty started nearing, the thought of what would happen to the muscle strength “at a more mature age” rose in Isohanni's mind.

“I realized that when I’m older, my knees may not be able to cope with my running unless my leg muscles are in shape. This gave me more motivation to work out.”

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Juho Väisänen nojaa pyöränsä selässä puuhun.
Juho Väisänen: “I use my company bicycle to commute around 15 kilometres each way. There are some pretty steep hills along the way, so I opted for an electric-assist bike. This means I don’t have to take a shower after my commute."

Head of Innovation Services at Tampere University Juho Väisänen is the happy owner of a company bicycle.

“I’ve been extremely athletic ever since I was a child. In my younger years, I did some competitive sports, but now that I’ve passed the 40-year milestone, I exercise mainly just to stay in shape.”

“When my employer offered me a company bike, I immediately seized the opportunity.”

The university does not offer its staff bicycles completely for free. Väisänen pays a hundred euros from his gross salary every month and may eventually buy the bike at a very reasonable price.

“Thanks to the tax benefit, I will eventually save about 20–30 per cent off the purchase price of the bike,” says Väisänen.

One of the conditions is that the bicycle needs to be from a specific leasing company, but employees may choose the one they prefer from the selection.

Väisänen's bicycle is an electric-assist mountain bike, and can be used for other travel besides commutes.

“It has studded tyres in the winter, so I can cycle year-round.”

Remember to make an agreement

According to Sirkku Pohja, Work life expert at the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK, the collective agreements concerning TEK members do not include any specific provisions or recommendations directly related to exercise or its promotion or effects.

Pohja encourages workplaces to make local agreements concerning company bicycles, for example.

“Our collective agreements offer extensive opportunities for local agreement, and I urge both occupational safety and health representatives and shop stewards to raise issues related to health and well-being and to suggest concrete ideas for maintaining and promoting them,” says Pohja.

“It’s easy to combine exercise and work these days, for example through walking meetings either as a group or via Teams. You can also recover and take breaks during the day by grabbing a cup of coffee or tea and enjoying a breath of fresh air together as a team. These are cost-effective methods and it takes no time to start using them.”

Pohja points out that the Occupational Safety and Health Act emphasizes the active responsibility of every employee for themselves and their colleagues when it comes to occupational safety and health.

“This means you should use whatever means you have available to take care of your health.”

Text: Henrik Muukkonen