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Inc 5000 Great Places to Work

Walking While You’re Working

treadmill desk

Sick time accounts for as much 6 percent of payroll for companies, according to a recent study. So it’s no wonder that companies look to combat employee illness in any way that they can. The most recent experiment in employee fitness: Treadmill desks.

It sounds like the setup for a funny YouTube video. (Worker gets on treadmill, picks up phone or keyboard, loses balance and goes sailing into Accounts Payable, dragging phone, keyboard and dignity behind. Remember us when you make Tosh.0.) But it’s a real trend, and it might mean the difference between healthy, happy employees and sickly couch potatoes with bad attendance records.

At Blue Shield of California, thirty employees are participating in an innovative program that allows them to work at treadmills desks for an hour a day, twice a week. It’s part of the company’s larger “Wellvolution” program, which encourages workers to get fit by integrating healthy behaviors directly into the workplace.

“Instead of asking people to find time to go to the gym, to go out and exercise, what about thinking about a new way of doing physical activity?” asks Wellvolution director Bryce Williams. “Bring it to the desktop, literally, so you can work out and do your job at the same time.”

The treadmills are set up so that they can’t go faster than 2 miles per hour.

The easy-does-it pace is part of what makes the program work. Claims processor Linsey Webb says, “It’s actually really fun. It’s the highlight of my day when I actually get to walk.”

We found no reports so far of anyone falling off, although some employees have mentioned that there was an adjustment period.

Tara Nicholson, from Blue Shield’s customer service division says that the first week was harder. “You had to learn how to do the whole walk, talk and type thing. But after that it’s a breeze. I like it.”

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley are following the program to see if it provides long-term benefits.

Programs like these have gained popularity in recent years, as companies realize the direct correlation between employee fitness and health care costs, as well as the aforementioned effect of sick days on the bottom line. Other frequently offered benefits include free flu shots, access to dieticians, and reduced-fee gym memberships.

So are treadmill desks a wave of the future for employers concerned about their employees’ health? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: when it comes to workplace perks, treadmill desks are definitely better for you than free bagels.

Image credit: Greg Barnette at

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