Most of us accept that nowadays there is very little gap between our work and personal lives. We are connected to our work through devices at all times, and many of us feel that we’re ‘on call’ or representing our workplaces regardless of our physical location or the time of day. For this reason, many professionals seek out work that is meaningful to them. Just as people are expected to “become their jobs” their workplaces also have the onus of developing them as people. It is no longer “show up and get a paycheck”. It is “invest in us and we’ll invest in you”. The more progressive workplaces are now seen as places where we can continue to develop, learn and grow as individuals while we contribute our talents and energy.
I’ve been thinking about this as I watch my kids and their schoolmates who are developing, learning and growing in elementary school. I coach their cross-country team and I love watching all of them learn a little more about themselves each season. I encourage as many kids as possible to come out and run, as sports is one of the best ways that they learn and grow: they develop confidence, learn how to deal with failure, start to develop resilience and appreciate the benefits of teamwork and cheering each other on. Many of the kids who come out to our running club don’t participate in other sports, but they do this one because we’ve made it the cultural norm. They get t-shirts, they are celebrated, and most of their friends do it (that’s why my own kids take part!) The barrier to entry is very low, and the learning experience is very high.
So back to the workplace: if we want individuals to continue to develop and learn and grow to their full potential, physical education in the workplace should not be ignored. I am very grateful to have worked at a company which valued this during my early years in the workforce. I was employed by the sportswear company adidas, and as you might expect, the culture was stereotypically one which valued sport and the participation in sport. Everyone was encouraged to play, train, run, sweat. No one ever had to make an excuse to leave work to get to the ice to play hockey or “sneak out” at lunch for a run. It was encouraged and expected, from the top down. The in-house gym was never a lonely place. Typically at lunch I would run with my boss, my boss’ boss and often the president of the company. When I started in a marketing role I soon learned that my boss, my boss’ boss, and my boss’ boss’ boss (yes, I was fairly low down the totem pole) had all done the Ironman, and it was somewhat expected that I would as well. Some of these people were natural endurance athletes and others were average joe’s who took up the challenge. But it was a culture of getting out there and doing it which was contagious to everyone around. So I signed up, trained for and completed the Ironman, knowing I had the full support and endorsement of my employer. Looking back I realize how rare and special this was. I learned a lot about myself and grew tremendously as an individual because of the athletic opportunities I took with the help of my employer.
If we really want to invest in the education and personal development of people, whether it’s kids at school or employees in an office, we cannot leave out the physical aspect. Some school educators get this better than others, and some workplaces do as well. We don’t all have to do an Ironman, but why not endorse participation a local 5K or 10K? It’s as simple as creating a culture where it’s the norm. Speaking from experience, when your boss’ boss’ boss is going for a run, you do too. And you will very likely learn a lot about yourself in the process.