I've always been sporty: I climbed trees and played sports as a kid, go to the gym often and think that in my next life I'd like to be a personal trainer. So, I was very interested in talking to Dr. Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute and vice president of applied science and performance training at Johnson & Johnson's Wellness & Prevention. According to Groppel, there is a way to bring sports - or at least sports-related concepts - into the workplace to make employees more engaged and productive. Recently, he and I discussed the idea of "sport science" and how its application in corporations could produce winning ways. -K.M.B.

 

EBN: What exactly is "sport science"?

Groppel: Sport science actually came from the application of several sciences - such as physiology, nutrition and psychology - [which] were adapted to the arena of world-class sport. And what athletes have learned, employees can reap the benefits as well.

For example, physiologically, athletes in all sports have learned that the more you move, the more activated the brain gets as well. Psychologically, athletes have learned emotional resilience - how to pick yourself up after [failing] and still believe you can win - and how to be laser focused. Those are the kinds of things we started studying in sports in the 1970s and can now apply to the workplace.

 

EBN: How can employers apply it to increasing employee engagement and, more importantly, how can they measure it? For athletes, the measurement is in wins and losses, scoring more or getting stronger/faster. What does that look like for employees?

Groppel: One measurement is something employers have been doing all along: assessing productivity and absenteeism. Those have been around for a long time, but where those [measurements] fall short a little bit is that they are all impairment issues.

Going forward, what I believe we're going to be measuring [are outcomes like]: How much energy does someone have at the end of the day? There's a human energy crisis in the country right now - people are working incredibly long hours, getting home tired, waking up tired and working some more. I also believe the future holds is outcomes research [tied to] how much you move [in correlation to] how well you solve problems.

The energy piece [we're researching now] through a pilot program with [athletic shoemaker] New Balance. We've found even if you have a fit and health conscious population, as New Balance does, that if you have a linear workstyle - that is, if you sit in meetings and/or at your desk all day - that the brain starts to shut down. [We found that] the more we move and the more we connect with people, the higher our energy level and the more productive we become. [Specifically], what they found at New Balance among the 41 people in its global marketing division is that if they got up from their desks and moved around every 25 minutes, 82% reported greater levels of energy throughout their day.

 

EBN: You've said that the body is "business relevant." Explain what you mean by that.

Groppel: Most companies, when they do training programs, they yield to "old think" in that they try hardest to improve the area between our ears - in other words, focusing on the brain. They teach people about new programs, new technology, time management. Then when it comes to physical health, [employers] say, "We want you to be healthy, but ultimately that's personal; what you do with your body is up to you."

What employers are finding out is that the more you take care of yourself, the better your body is able to stay "turned on." The more you move, the more oxygen to the brain; the better you eat, the more glucose to the brain. Those functions are business relevant because the brain works fundamentally on those two levels. So, if we go longer than three hours without eating, we end up with low levels of glucose to the brain. If we're sitting in a meeting for more than an hour, our heart is beating at its lowest possible rate, so we're getting the minimal level of oxygen.

But the more we give the body of what it needs - [more movement, better food] - the brain works more effectively and is able to be more connected to serving business needs, making it business relevant.

Health ignites performance. People get it intellectually, but don't do it behaviorally.

 

EBN: How can employers effectively communicate the parallels between sport and work so that employees begin to view themselves as "corporate athletes" and act accordingly?

Groppel: Employers have to stop looking at traditional ways of doing business. We're still having people sit at their desks for long periods of time, sit in meetings. So, behaviorally, the C-suite has to make a decision to change that.

It takes a paradigm shift; management techniques are great, but we also have to pay attention to the biology of human beings.

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