Enhancing Community at Work and Breaking Down Organizational Silos: Insights into the Potentials and Constraints of Exercise at Work Programmes

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Aim: Implementing exercise during work hours is frequently embraced to address workplace health promotion. However, intervention exercise programmes are often short-lived. We still lack knowledge about potentials of exercise and sport-like activities to impact on community experiences at the workplace, whether activities can break down organizational silos, and how programmes can become sustainable after the intervention. Accordingly, this study investigates how employees, managers and selected employees acting as exercise-ambassadors at their workplaces (Edmunds & Clow, 2016) perceive exercise activities ́ impact on work community at five workplaces. We engage with the exercise activities in a critical performative way (Spicer et al. 2009) i.e. by balancing possible progressive managerial paths such as improving health and fostering a tolerable working environment with inappropriate constraints and structural limitations such as inducing work-overload, blurring the boundaries between leisure and workhours, or conducting managerial control.
Theoretical background and literature review: Most research on workplace exercise focus on measurable health improvements or engage in critical management studies (Overbye & Wagner, 2023). To find a balanced approach, this study adopts an institutional logics perspective (Lounsbury et al. 2021) and argues that once exercise is introduced during work logics of profession and corporation interact with a logic embedded in community that influences and frames exercise and sport-like activities. For example, embodied play-like activities and voluntarism known from sport and exercise activities can either challenge, collide or blend with the bureaucratic roles from a corporate logic, or personal reputation and the quality of the craft characterizing the logic of profession.
Research design: The study is anchored in a qualitative driven mixed methods design (Mason, 2006) exploring a 1-year exercise at work programme at five Danish workplaces (two private production companies delivering furniture and insulation products, and three public services providers within healthcare, municipal administration, and waste and renovation). Encouraged by peer colleagues acting as exercise-ambassadors, employees were offered time for voluntary exercise during work. The activities were developed in collaboration between the workplaces and the Danish Confederation for Company Sports. Theory and insights into existing topic- related literature are used by the researchers as pre-understandings enhancing the interpretation and expanding the horizon.The presentation will draw on observations of preparatory seminars prior to the launch of the exercise-at work project, qualitative interviews with managers and the employee exercise-ambassadors at the beginning and end of the exercise-at-work programme (n=31), and data from a web based questionnaire distributed to employees in the final stage of the project period (n=266).
Findings: In a Scandinavian context, exercise and sport-like activities are normally anchored in leisure time activities organized by civil society organizations such as associations thus drawing heavily on a community logic. Once transferred to work settings, the presentation will provide insights into how implementing exercise at work influences community and can lead to feelings of organisational cohesion and experiences of community. We will illustrate how and to what extent exercise leads to reduction of work-related silos and increases collaboration and friendships across boundaries at the workplaces, but also how logics of profession and corporation occasionally represent contradictions leading to tensions between logics. The findings will be used to elaborate on community and organizational research from an institutional logics perspective (Georgiou & Arenas, 2023).
Conclusion and implications: A model where employees are acting as ambassadors has the potential to implement exercise during work beyond a short-termed intervention. It may enhance experiences of community at work and reduce organizational silo creation. However, the study illustrates that implementing exercise is not matter of harmonious blending of logics but shall rather be seen as an oscillation between tensions and co-existence of logics where active support from top- and middle management is considered crucial for successful implementation. For instance, exercise collides with existing work tasks as exercise is considered subordinated to the core activity of the workplace (e.g. processing of raw materials or delivering a tax-funded public service) or it is considered incompatible with professional practices of employees. Hence, this study points to the organizational complexity of implementing exercise during work. By drawing attention to community potentials, the study adds to existing research: It goes beyond studies relying on short-term interventions that seek to measure the health effect which often is the case for much occupational health literature. Simultaneously, it points to studies neglecting progressive managerial aspects (such as embracing the community potentials of sport and exercise) as often seen in critical management studies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventEuropean Sport Management Conference 2023 -
Duration: 12 Sep 202215 Sep 2023


ConferenceEuropean Sport Management Conference 2023

ID: 387292115