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How Indian firms keep their employees healthy and motivated with sports leagues

Lounge speaks with a cross-section of Indian firms to find out about the benefits of keeping employees healthy through in-house sports leagues

Why having in house sports leagues is important for Indian corporates.
Why having in house sports leagues is important for Indian corporates. (Istockphoto)

India Inc. has come up with multiple initiatives to encourage employees to take up an active lifestyle and focus on their health and fitness. Many organisations also incentivise signing up for (and sticking with) specific health programmes. There are a host of activities, sports and initiatives such as running, yoga, gym membership, robust health insurance schemes, regular medical check-ups, mental health workshops and much more that employees can choose from. 

Despite plenty of choice as far as exercise and activities go, it is the in-house sports clubs and competitions that are the most popular among employees at most firms, say HR and fitness experts. 

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“Among the activities that can be called successful are sporting activities where collective fun-filled activities are done,” says Rajesh Uppal, member of the executive board for HR, IT, safety and digital enterprise, Maruti Suzuki India Limited. The least successful initiative, notes Uppal, is, ironically, the voluntary annual medical check-up programme, where the adoption rate is low. Gym memberships and office workout initiatives are seeing a low uptake these days, add HR experts. 

Keeping employee interest in mind, most organisations nowadays have their own sports leagues, often based on the successful Indian Premier League (IPL) format, and tournaments that run all year round.

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Sports brand Puma India has been running its own sports league, called the Puma SportsLife League (PSL), since 2015. The league has multiple teams and Puma employees hold annual auctions, have a lineup of play-offs and design special jerseys for their teams. 

The Puma SportsLife League, says Shreya Sachdev, head of marketing at Puma India, started as a simple idea of playing sports regularly, but it has uniquely shaped the organisation’s culture. “Puma SportsLife League is a good outlet for us and helps us as employees to connect, bond and build relationships outside of our work teams. It has been a binding factor for our employees, empowering them to define, design and create engagement in their own unique way and shape the organisation culture,” explains Sachdev. 

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IT and software major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has not only championed participative sports and fitness with programmes such as Fit4Life, TCS Cares and TCS Maitree, but it has also been the title sponsor and partner in many races in India and abroad, including the Tata Mumbai Marathon, New York City Marathon and TCS World 10k Bengaluru. TCS has a dedicated web portal and mobile application that employees use to participate in the sports activities, as well as track each other’s progress and performance.  

These sports initiatives, which witness a good participation rate, not only improve employee engagement and morale, they also have the added benefit for improving employee health, fitness, mood and camaraderie. “Participating in sports events like races, cricket, and football tournaments can be a game-changer for employees looking to embrace a healthier lifestyle. These events aren't just about scoring goals or crossing the finish line. They are about coming together as a team, cheering each other on and feeling that rush of accomplishment, says Vijayraghavan Venugopal, co-founder and CEO of sports nutrition business Fast&Up. Venugopal is an avid cricket enthusiast and runner who has run several marathons.

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Promoting a culture of sportsmanship among our employees sometimes extends beyond health benefits. “It cultivates values such as fairness and respect for others, shaping the right ethical framework within our workforce,” adds Venugopal. 

While sports such as football and running are very popular, cricket, unsurprisingly, is the runaway hit among employees across organisations in India. At Maruti, the most popular sports are marathons, cricket, badminton, football and hiking, says Uppal. In the Puma SportsLife League, employees participate in basketball playoffs, football tournaments and also organise challenges such as plank hold, beating in-house records for number of squats, surya namaskars and jumping jacks. 

Brisk walking and running are the most popular sports at TCS, followed by cricket, badminton and dancing. “The minimum advantage of this kind of activity is that your body continues to burn fast even after you stop playing, thereby helping in people’s weight management goals. Plus, the element of competition makes sports more exciting and fun than regular exercise,” says general physician Dr. Roonam Patir.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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