How China’s healthy living focus is impacting office life

 —  Article by Robyn Wilson
woman running on treadmill in gym
Image credit: Shutterstock

For China’s middle class, regular visits to the gym are becoming a central part of a healthy lifestyle.

Now, companies are taking note. Instead of the traditional drinking and dining culture that accompanies Chinese corporate life, a growing number are focusing on improving their fitness offerings to help attract talent as well as keep their existing employees healthy.

“Companies have started incorporating wellness initiatives in their day-to-day operations, such as gym membership or gym classes,” says Xuchao Wu, JLL’s Head of Energy and Sustainability Services. “We have also seen more and more offices trying to incorporate wellness features in the office fit-out and engage their employees for wellness activities.”

Firms like global health insurer Aetna, which has an office in Shanghai, has a wellness program with a virtual fitness centre for work-based sessions. The company also launched a yoga and meditation program in 2010. Popular Chinese co-working brands, UrWork (now rebranded as UCommune) and WeDo have gyms onsite while the likes of Chinese social fitness apps, Spirit, have entered into partnerships with companies such as Reebok and bike share operator ofo to provide in-house trainers and fitness courses.

China gets active

The growing demand for fitness can also be seen outside the office. In the last year or so, a number of pop-up gym pods have sprouted in major cities  like Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. Users can access these self-service pods, which are filled with basic gym equipment, by downloading an app and unlocking the booth with a QR code.

Chinese start up Misspao has already secured two rounds of funding to expand its gym pod business and last year had aims to have 1,000 cubicles installed by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Chengdu-based competitor, LePao, promises slightly more frills with stationary bikes and showers.

And U.S. fitness franchise Anytime Fitness is also looking to open 500 gyms in the country to build on the growing appetite for fitness facilities. Indeed, a 2016 report by ACMR-IBISWorld predicts that revenue in the country’s burgeoning fitness industry will increase 7.8 percent a year to total $8.47 billion in the five years through 2021.

“The younger generations are embracing sports and exercises in a way that China traditionally didn’t 10 years ago,” says Wu. “A lot more gyms have popped up in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, which are greatly increasing the services they offer to include gym classes and personal training sessions. And with gym memberships proving a pricy option for many younger workers – annual fees tend to fall between 2000 and 15000 yuan – it’s a valuable perk for employees.”

Building wellness into office space

Other companies are taking a holistic approach to the focus on health and wellbeing by focusing on the design of the office space itself. JLL’s Shanghai office became the first workplace to attain WELL Platinum certification in Asia Pacific, which measures and monitors the features of buildings in how they impact the health and wellness of the people who live, work, and learn in them.

“Companies are beginning to wake up to this wider wellness trend for a number of reasons, starting with the need to keep employees feeling good and performing at the best of their abilities. People also show greater loyalty to companies when they realize their employers care about their wellness and are taking actions to improve that,” Wu says.

There is also a clear financial benefit for a business that has “healthier and happier employees”, he adds, since it means better productivity.

From green to well

Wu observes that while it would still take some time before China’s office market adopts WELL certification widely, it would be similar to how global green buildings certification, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has spread across China thanks to greater awareness and demand.

Mainland China is now ranked number one for the second year in a row on the annual list of top 10 countries and region for LEED, outside of the US.

Yet when it comes to big external issues affecting general wellbeing such as air pollution or food safety, China still has a long way to go. Wu says that many companies are aware of this and their own limitations in directing positive change in these areas. Instead, he says, “the answer for many companies is to create smaller initiatives to improve wellbeing in the environments that they control to produce more tangible results.”

Developers are also waking up to the fact that buildings with wellness features have a stronger chance of attracting good companies and less time standing empty. “More and more asset repositioning projects (upgrades of depressed assets especially after change of ownership) are trying to incorporate wellness features such as a gym or mini football pitch as differentiators in leasing,” points out Wu.

As China’s health and fitness boom spreads beyond the middle class in China’s top tier cities, Wu believes premium buildings and offices in other cities will begin to pay greater attention to their health and fitness facilities and incorporate more aspects of wellbeing into their design. “In the future, we could see the first wave of healthier offices sweep the country,” he adds.

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