5 Tips To Get Your Employees Moving – Sustainably

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

Average adults spend more than half of their day sitting. Such a sedentary lifestyle can lead to potentially severe health consequences. A simple preventive solution is to get moving! In the business context, studies show healthy employees lead to higher productivity, engagement, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

Accordingly, most successful companies have set up programs to support health and fitness, but a recent survey by U.S. human capital solutions company CareerBuilder found that 63% of workers do not take advantage of wellness benefits offered by their employers. What can HR and health managers do to motivate their workforce to get moving and to sustain healthy habits? Here are five tips that have proven to be successful:

1. Set up and promote health campaigns that include everybody

To build awareness around the benefits of physical activities and the company’s health offers, health managers are well advised to set up campaigns. To make them a success, it is important to consider the different physical abilities and living conditions of a diverse workforce. In my company, a colleague in a wheelchair shared his story of how he was motivated by our initiative “Run Your Way” to set and reach a personal goal to move more and lose weight. We used his and many other personal stories to further promote our program via the intranet, social media, posters, and flyers. To gain even more awareness, health managers can link their internal campaigns to publicly promoted ones, like the OSHA Healthy Workplaces Campaign.

2. Move and save the planet – emphasize the purpose

Remember the charity runs you participated in as a child – have you ever been more motivated to run laps? So, to keep employees motivated not only during a campaign, but continuously, it is crucial that they are truly involved and have an emotional connection to their physical activity. Most human beings need purpose for their motivation. Link the campaigns with one or several of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, e.g., goals #3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and #13 (Climate Action). Using your muscles instead of your car or the elevator is good for your health and for our planet. It gives your physical activity a purpose. With this mental involvement, you are much more likely to develop healthy habits.

3. Cooperate with relevant teams, e.g., sustainability

One example for the connection between good health and climate action is a bike-to-work month organized by our sustainability team. They launch a challenge for single employees and teams to cycle to work and compare distances. Many local teams organize events or bike exhibitions and promote them via online and print channels. The initiative, which takes place annually in May, helps reduce the company’s carbon footprint and is a great motivation for employees to cycle instead of sitting in the car. Build bridges not silos, seek cooperation with other teams and synergies within your organization!

4. Use gadgets and IT (millennials love them!)

In 2025, roughly half of the employees in the IT industry will be millennials. As digital natives, many of them are keen on gadgets, like fitness trackers and apps to analyze and compare their performance. When subsidizing fitness trackers, it is important that employees have the choice between different brands and models so they can choose the one that best fits their needs. Address data privacy issues before they are brought up by your employees! They want to know if their company only wants to get them moving more, or if the intention is to get information on the activity level or health status of their employees. Transparency is crucial.

5. Competition is fun – let your employees compare and share

Research shows that competition has large potential intrinsic motivation for physical activity. Launch and promote challenges between employees or between groups! Maybe challenge another team, location, or even the company next door. Mobile fitness apps or trackers make comparison easier. Using a platform or collaboration tool makes it more comfortable and more fun to exchange, compare, and challenge your peers. Offering an award for the best team will also help keep motivation high.

All 5 tips in one program

SAP’ Global Health Management, together with a variety of teams and partners, launched and promoted an initiative that takes all five tips to heart. The Run Your Way program offers a unique approach to encourage employees – across all generations and physical conditions – to invest in their health and well-being by integrating physical activity into their daily lives.

The program consists of two pillars: First, it facilitates access to and regular use of an activity tracker via a subsidy available for all employees worldwide. Second, it provides a fun and engaging global activity challenge platform, called Fit@SAP, that is powered by SAP Cloud Platform. Employees can connect their preferred device to the online tool, which follows the simple approach to count steps that are then visible on a personal dashboard. The challenge functionality motivates individuals and groups to launch activity challenges with colleagues worldwide.

Our first global challenge was linked to environmental protection: SAP committed to planting trees each time employees figuratively went around the world. SAP colleagues contributed more than 1.3 billion steps, which equals more than 24 trips around the world. Accordingly, SAP will plant 30,000 trees with Plant-for-the-Planet. Participants reduced the annual carbon dioxide output by about 300 tons and supported the UN Sustainable Development Goal #13, Climate Action.

Hopefully, these ideas inspire you to succeed in making your organization healthier. If you have other ideas or initiatives that proved successful at your company, I would love to hear them!

SAP’s sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) focus is an outgrowth of our vision to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Learn more.


Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

About Dr. Natalie Lotzmann

Dr. Natalie Lotzmann is the Chief Medical Officer, responsible for executing on SAP's Health Strategy globally. She is a seasoned thought leader in the field of linking health metrics to talent management and an innovative people strategy.