7 ways a group fitness program can reduce burnout

Occupational burnout is real and continues to be a growing epidemic, especially with our fast-paced, digitally dominated lifestyles. The World Health Organization addressed this crisis during its recent World Health Assembly by updating its International Classification of Diseases list, stating that “burnout” is an “occupational phenomenon”.

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Signs of workplace burnout may include:

  • Reduced efficiency and energy
  • Lowered levels of motivation
  • Increased errors
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Increased frustration

If not addressed burnout can also result in:

  • Sarcasm and negativity
  • Debilitating self-doubt
  • Abuse of alcohol and other substances

And then there’s the cost associated with burnout. In 2015 researchers at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business found that workplace stress contributes to 120,000 deaths each year and cost U.S. businesses up to $190 billion in health care costs. And these numbers continue to rise.

It may sound like all working men and women are on a collision course to crash and burn(out). However, you may be pleased to know that there are workers who feel capable and appreciated, are engaged, and provide significant contributions. To help foster this type of healthy worker and reduce burnout, Wellness Programs began to emerge in the 1980s. Today various Wellness Programs provide group counseling, retreats, onsite massages, and even fully stocked refrigerators. Many companies have found that a Group (Team) Fitness Program can have a profound effect in reducing burnout.

The benefits of regular exercise have been well documented. These include prevention of some diseases, increased energy, better mental health, stronger bones, and better memory. However, as a former Executive Leader, Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor, I have found seven additional benefits that a Group Fitness Program can provide that reduces burnout.

1. Team Unity

A strong and unified team is essential for the success of any organization. An effective Group Fitness Program brings individuals together to accomplish a common goal of improving health and fitness. Everyone works together to help each other realize those goals. This is accomplished when the larger team is divided into pairs and smaller groups to better support and challenge each other. As pairs and small groups experience success, an activity is then planned that requires the participation of each member in order for the entire group to be successful. Activities are always challenging, but attainable. The ultimate success is when each person has played a part in helping others achieve their goals, and when this happens everyone achieves their goals.

An important requirement during this process is for each person to put down their phones (yes, unplug) and truly interact with their fellow team members. When improving health and fitness this way, strong communities and social support systems are established and strengthened. Encouraging employees to work hard together physically is likely to translate into a more cohesive and better-performing team overall, thus reducing burnout.

2. Supportive and Encouraging Connections

Another way to reduce burnout is by encouraging your team to establish social connections that are supportive and encouraging.

Working out with a group provides a place where each participant can be comfortable with whatever fitness level they are at, but also is encouraged to improve and grow while competing only with themselves, not those around them. However, everyone is encouraged to help motivate and support those around him or her. Each person then begins to realize that everyone has different challenges and that one’s strength may complement another’s weakness. Through this process, individuals come to realize that they are capable of accomplishing more than they thought and can influence others to surpass their own self-expectations. When this type of connection is established in the workplace, engagement increases, burnout decreases while overall productivity soars.

3. Learning to Embrace the Struggle

Some respond to struggle by simply giving up, while others respond by blindly pushing through “just to get it done”. Then there are those who stop, refocus, take their time, concentrate their efforts, and move forward. Although struggling may feel like a lack of progress, it is actually a path to success. It is how we respond to a challenge and provides us with an opportunity to learn and grow.

Establishing realistic challenges and learning to be uncomfortable is part of any Group Fitness Program. These challenges force our bodies to adapt to added demands, resulting in increased muscle growth, strength, endurance, etc. In order to accomplish these challenges, there will be a struggle. This is when the Group Fitness Instructor stresses the need to slow down and take a break in order to concentrate and refocus. This includes checking for proper form and breathing patterns, as well as refocusing on “purpose”.

Struggle is also associated with intensity, which is the cornerstone to any fitness program. The Group Fitness Instructor provides the guidance and information needed for each participant to monitor their own intensity and struggle. When one learns how to properly manage intensity and struggle is when they begin to see results, in both the fitness world and the business world.

4. Celebrating Accomplishments

There is nothing more motivating than being recognized for our accomplishments. In the fitness realm, an accomplishment could be anything from replacing that 4 o’clock Snickers bar with a piece of fruit every day for 6 weeks, to walking 150 minutes each week for 2 months, to finishing a 5k run or marathon. The entire group celebrates individual milestones because when one member succeeds, the entire team succeeds. And when the entire team succeeds, the entire organization succeeds.

In this busy and fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook an individual or team’s accomplishments in order to quickly move on to the next challenge. However, to better meet that next challenge it’s important to take time to celebrate the current accomplishment. No, this doesn’t mean the entire team needs to celebrate by going to the Bahamas for a week, but there should be something beyond a quick “good job”. It’s not really about what is said or done, it’s about making the team or individual feel appreciated for their contribution. It’s amazing how this inspires a person or a team to work that much more to accomplish the next goal.

 5. The Fun Factor

Getting stronger, increasing energy, looking better; these are just a few of the reasons people begin to exercise. However, there is one reason why they continue exercising, FUN. It’s just who we are. If we are involved in anything that is not enjoyable or not worth the effort we quickly lose interest and become disengaged.

As mentioned above, a Group Fitness Instructor creates a specific program for each unique group that is challenging and will require some struggle. However, if this process is not fun, the motivation to continue quickly drops. One of the most important responsibilities of the Group Fitness Instructor is to make sure everyone is engaged and having fun.

Studies also show that when business leaders create a fun work environment, there is a significant increase in the level of employee trust, creativity and engagement; reducing burnout, increasing morale and creating a stronger bottom line.

6. Dealing with Stress through Relaxation

At the end of any Group Fitness class is the cool-down period, which provides the body with a smooth transition from exercise back to a state of rest.

The primary goal of a cool-down period is to reduce heart and breathing rates and gradually cool the body temperature, as well as other physiological transitions. At this time the Group Fitness Instructor demonstrates breathing and stretching techniques. These simple breathing exercises can also be used at any time to stimulate relaxation and help deal with stressful situations.

After the cool down there is a brief discussion on the importance of nutrition, with possible references to various websites including Nutrition.gov. A registered dietitian or nutritionist may also be invited to share their expertise.

7. Loyalty and Morale

Increased employee loyalty is another benefit of those companies with an effective wellness program, especially those that include a Group Fitness component. This is an intangible benefit that one can’t put a direct price on. When an employee feels that their employer cares about them beyond the workplace, loyalty and morale increase. This means reduced costs and time for recruitment efforts, training and other costs related to turnover. Happy and appreciated employees also promote a more harmonious and dedicated working environment.


Before starting any type of Group Fitness Program it is important to gather pertinent information from all employees, usually through an employee survey. This will help to assess any lifestyle concerns and fitness needs they have. This may include losing weight, being more active or stronger, or looking better. It is important to get to the heart of these needs in order to develop a program designed to meet these specific needs.

A Final Word

A great Group Fitness Program can complement a business that is already, or beginning to, create a work environment where workers can grow and thrive. It is an effective way to combat occupational burnout, but it is not the ultimate solution. However, it can greatly enhance a work culture that strives to keep workers engaged and motivated.

This article first appeared on Linkedin.