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Exercise discretion

By Dan Papas

Should fitness be foisted on you? Dan Papas finds resistance to multitasking gone mad.

Walk and talk. A term heard around heavily trafficked corporate corridors, it's the meeting taken en route to the next meeting, a catch-me-if-you-can catch-up for the executive who's going places. But it's no longer the only way to talk in transit.

"When an email hit my inbox inviting me to a 'feeting'," says Dave Johnson*, a website technician for an investment company, "I was a little scared. When I opened it and read the details ... I was terrified."

A feeting, in the new office lexicon, is the combining of a meeting with a walk, jog or run. A mobile meeting that will keep you informed and in shape all at once, it's coming to a city park or street near you.

"I didn't want to reject this meeting about a really important project," Dave says, "but combining it with a spot of exercise is not what I signed up for.

"I'll eat my expensive, non-fun-run-friendly shoes before I start taking meeting minutes with a stopwatch."

If the idea of a feeting still seems foreign to the average office worker, an on-the-job jog makes perfect sense to an increasing number of cross-training multitaskers.

"Mixing exercise with work is on the rise as we find ourselves with fewer free hours in the day and work-life balance becomes harder to attain," says Lynette Benton, a health consultant with experience in designing workplace fitness plans. "When a healthy body and successful career seem impossible to achieve separately, the natural next step is to try to bring them together.

"Sport in the office no longer needs to be confined to a tearoom TV when the Olympics are on. Now, with the growing emphasis on workplace health and well-being, physical activity between nine and five is acutely encouraged."

But how does this meld with the traditional office, an environment so sedentary it has a type of chair named for it? Business suits may have become less stiff through the years but is there really a place for business tae bo?

"I could probably cope with a feeting or two and the occasional flyer for a health-based program," Johnson says.

"But just deleting all of my emails with subjects like 'jump!' 'move!' and 'sweat!' is exhausting."

Being used to more-passive pastimes can be at the root of not wanting to get physical at work, but it's not the only objection a worker might make.

Other factors can play a part, such as an attachment to personal boundaries. "Maybe my boss has his heart in the right place organising boardroom yoga at lunchtime," Johnson says, "but it's not his heart I'm worried about seeing while he's bend-and-stretching in Lycra.

"Excuse me if I find it hard to look you in the eye when I just looked you in the downward dog."

Benton says it is important to keep a degree of separation from your colleagues "but there is also a lot to be said for getting to know those people outside of the work environment".

Seeing colleagues in communal showers might not be to everybody's taste but can be avoided. More difficult to defend is the compulsory mixing of business with leisure.

"Team-building is a tough sell at the best of times," Johnson says, "but what sort of professional networks can you really build through a staff volleyball tournament?"

For every team that finds itself bonded at the end of an obstacle course, there is one whose biggest obstacle is the fact that its morale will not be boosted at the same time as its metabolic rate.
Benton agrees.

"Encouraging workers to build a healthy body and mind is important and it's admirable for a business to provide ways and means for people to do it," she says. "However, for it to be most effective, that access needs to be tailored to meet the needs of all employees and should take into account the fact that a workplace is filled with people whose levels of comfort and ability vary."

And we'll let Johnson have the last word. "Footy tipping and the Melbourne Cup sweep are about as active as I plan to get," he says.

*Name changed

Published: 13 August 2011

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