Study: Get Employees Moving to Improve Work Performance

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – Promoting physical activity can reduce turnover, absenteeism and disability and improve productivity, suggests a new study. Researchers in Finland found that workers who spent their leisure time being physically active and less time sitting were more engaged in their work.

“Work engagement is defined as a positive emotional and motivational state at work with three subdimensions: vigor (high levels of energy, resilience, and persistence), dedication (strong work involvement, sense of significance), and absorption (concentration and being engrossed in one’s work),” according to researchers. “Our findings suggest that promoting physical activity (PA) and reducing sitting time (ST) are vital for work engagement. Even light PA may be beneficial for work engagement, since it is closely related to lesser amounts of ST.” The study was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The Research

Work engagement benefits individuals as well as their organizations. It’s been linked to better well-being and health, along with work performance and organizational commitment.

While a number of studies have looked at the relationship between PA and mental health, few have specifically examined the effects on work engagement. The authors undertook a large study that included questionnaire-based and clinical data from a 46-year follow-up study of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort.

Participants were born in 1966 and were questioned between 2012-2014. While the initial research included more than 12,000 children, the final study consisted of 3,046 people.

The researchers analyzed the participants’ leisure-time physical activity (LTPT), and leisure-time sitting time (LTST). LTPT included intentional physical exercise as well as normal activities, such as doing household chores that require some energy expenditure.

“LTPA was self-reported in response to questions about the frequency and duration of light PA (described as causing no sweating or breathlessness) and brisk PA (described as causing at least some sweating or breathlessness),” the authors wrote. “The frequency of PA (“How often, and for how long, do you participate in light or brisk physical activity or exercise during your leisure time?”) was reported on a 6-point scale … The duration of PA was also reported on a 6-point scale.”

The researchers additionally asked whether and to what extent the participants engaged in sports, such as walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, running, strength training, downhill skiing, aerobics, and dancing.

ST was determined via several questions, such as ‘how much time do you spend sitting on a normal weekday?’ It was evaluated in several scenarios, including ‘at home,’ ‘watching TV,’ ‘at home in front of a computer,’ ‘in a vehicle,’ and ‘in other place.’

For the clinical part of the study, participants were asked to wear waterproof Polar Active accelerometers to measure physical activity. The devices were worn on the non-dominant wrist for 14 days, 24-hours per day.

Finally, work engagement was determined via answers to questions such as ‘in my job, I feel strong and vigorous,’ ‘I am enthusiastic about my job,’ and ‘I feel happy when I am working intensely.’ The participants answered on a 6-point scale ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (always).


“This large population-based study revealed that self-reported LTPA and sports participation in leisure time were consistently linked to higher work engagement and its subdimensions, whereas self-reported sitting time in leisure time related to lower work engagement and its subdimensions, except for dedication,” the researchers wrote. “We found that accelerometer-measured light PA 24- hour related to higher work engagement and vigor, and accelerometer-measured steps 24- hour were associated with vigor. Additionally, accelerometer-measured SED 24-hour was associated with lower work engagement, vigor, and dedication.”

Participants who self-reported light LTPA were associated with overall total work engagement – specifically vigor and dedication. Those who said they engaged in brisk LPTA and/or sports were also associated with absorption, or concentration and being engrossed in one’s work. LTPA was shown to have a buffering effect of work-and-family conflict on work engagement.

The study “implies a need to reduce ST in order to improve work engagement,” the authors concluded. “Our findings suggest that promoting PA and reducing ST are vital for work engagement. Even light PA may be beneficial for work engagement, since it is closely related to lesser amounts of ST.”