Just 5.7 per cent of Canadians walked to work in 2011, down from 6.3 per cent in 2006, according to Statistics Canada. But even if employees live too far to commute by foot, employers can still create a walking-friendly culture. And today – Walk to Work Day – is a good time to start.
Last fall, about 60 employees at the Peel Children’s Centre collectively walked the distance between their office in Mississauga, Ont. and Hawaii in just under three weeks, says Alexandra Macgregor-Amde, communications specialist at the centre.
The centre’s volunteer health and wellness committee started to promote walking because of its accessibility.
“It’s a great way to encourage people to get outside and get some exercise without costing too much money,” says Macgregor-Amde, adding employees might walk around the block, to the next major intersection or through a nearby walking trail. Originally, the committee had to send out reminder emails, but soon it noticed teams were taking walks on their own.
“What I think this wellness program has really accomplished is showing clinicians that it’s okay to prioritize their own mental health and well-being, and that it’s supported at work and that we’ll do anything we can to keep our staff healthy so they can continue to help children, youth and families,” says Macgregor-Amde.
She adds the organization bought all staff members Fitbits in 2015. “I think they did it because they noticed some staff had them and were walking more, and they thought this would be a great way to reinforce the message that we should take our health and wellness seriously.”
Offering subsidized pedometers is a good start to a workplace walking program, according to Linda Lewis-Daly, a workplace wellness consultant at GoodLife Fitness. The next step is making walking convenient, such as creating a daily walking group at lunch, which allows employees to motivate each other. Organizations can also incorporate competitions to boost motivation and create a common goal for the workforce.
But ultimately, consistency is essential, noted Lewis-Daly. “Be sure management reinforces its importance and encourages employees to build it into their daily schedule,” she said. “Find ways to build walking in throughout the year if possible, whether it’s climbing stairs, circling the building or walking the halls.”