It may be just the kind of place anyone would want to work. In one area sits a foosball table, ping-pong table and video golf game to help employees break through creative blocks. In another area, slices of birthday cake adorn plates on the kitchen’s island counter. But the most noticeable workplace feature? Treadmill desks.
At Salo, a finance, accounting and human resources staffing firm based in Minneapolis, the culture is one of movement intended to fuel creativity and productivity. Workers pace on treadmills while talking on the phone or sorting through emails. Others stand at their desks or sit on exercise balls.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that walking while working might improve not only an employee’s health, but also boost output. The study, conducted by Avner Ben-Ner, a professor of Work and Organizations at the Carlson School of Management, followed about 40 employees of a local financial services company who regularly used treadmills instead of chairs. Workers had a computer, a phone and writing space on a desk in front of a treadmill set to go no faster than 2 mph. Ben-Ner and his co-authors studied them for a year.
What they found was that treadmills increased productivity by nearly 10 percent.
Workers were not forced, like rowers in a Roman war galley, to walk all day. Walking on the treadmill was voluntary – as was standing at their desk or sitting on an exercise ball. Still, even though workers could sit all day if they wished, most did not.
Moving, Ben-Ner said, is good for work. Especially for what he called “brain workers,” those who need to have increased cognitive skills to perform their duties. An employer’s investment of $1,000 to $2,000 in outfitting a workstation will pay off, he said.
“The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain,” Ben-Ner said.
Salo’s participation in a similar study several years ago by the Mayo Clinic helped create a culture of movement and fitness at the company, said founders Amy Langer and John Folkestad. The treadmills and other equipment, like wireless headsets to encourage movement, have been a feature at Salo ever since. While everyone in the office wears business attire, running shoes are at every desk. There is even a conference room with four treadmills for “walking meetings.”
It makes sense for companies, and sedentary workers, to pay attention, Ben-Ner said. “There is a very simple cost-benefit analysis here. We’re not talking big fitness gains. We are talking a person who is sedentary who just gets up.”