• Barnett Waddingham
    Barnett Waddingham
  • 5 Minutes With… Luke Bullen, Gympass

    In the latest instalment of our HR executive interview series, we spoke to Luke Bullen, UK/IE CEO at Gympass, about his company, industry opportunities, challenges posed by remote working and how to overcome them, the importance of physical activity and new technology…

    Tell us about your company, products and services.

    Gympass is a corporate wellness solution that builds relationships between leisure operators and corporate companies.  Together we encourage employees to engage in physical activity and our engagement and activation teams work closely with businesses to get the best results. We offer our users a range of fitness facilities that they access easily via our online platform. With over 2,000 fitness partners, 500+ activity types and price plans to suit all budgets, we’ve created a network that it as universal and accessible-to-all as possible.

    We have also just added significantly to our offering by introducing Gympass Wellness, a digital wellness platform that people can access wherever they are. Especially welcome during the current lockdown, it brings a diverse range of live and downloadable workouts, wellbeing advice, nutrition, relaxation, meditation and more to our members.

    The coronavirus is seeing the HR industry facing unprecedented challenges, how has your business pivoted to manage?

    We quickly responded to the changes in people’s working circumstances and lifestyles by offering digital solutions to ensure HR teams can support and motivate their employees during this time.  Before Covid-19, we were looking at bringing digital solutions on-stream but we fast-tracked the plans to create Gympass Wellness. We are really proud of this and believe it’s one of the most comprehensive packages available with a 360-degree approach to wellness and well-being (not just online classes).  There are even children’s programmes, relaxation and sleep options for employees juggling working from home with family care.

    Given your experience, what advice can you give HR teams to help retain their company culture while colleagues are forced to work remotely?

    I’d recommend setting up regular team and office check-ins. We have maintained our regular sessions to retain our routine as best we can including our 10@10 sessions, where we take 10 minutes on a Monday to meditate or stretch together: we are now doing this virtually!  Throughout the week, we host activities, such as quizzes, games and incentives, to keep everyone connected at a social level, and we have a Friday end-of-week wrap up meeting to conclude the week nicely. We encourage our employees to embrace the flexible working pattern and keep a close eye to make sure they’re not overworking. Finally, importantly, we continue to celebrate ‘wins’ by sharing success and good news just as we would if we were in the office.

    What key tech do you favour to keep colleagues connected?

    We use a range of contact tools including Slack, Zoom and Google Hangouts. Slack enables us to keep connected continuously throughout the day for quick questions that you might usually ask someone by going up to their desk. It also allows video calls and standards calls and integrates nicely with other platforms like Zoom and Google Drive. We have also just launched a Europe-wide initiative called ‘Donut’ that pairs you up with someone within the European team and encourages you to have a virtual coffee/lunch together.  It’s refreshing and motivating!

    What advice are you giving colleagues and workforces around physical activity?

    • It’s never been more important to be physically active. Physical activity not only keeps you physically well, but also plays a huge role in your mental fitness. I know for me I notice a huge difference in my day when I have exercised versus when I haven’t. As you aren’t doing the regular commute that you normally do you are missing out on a number of ‘steps’ that you previously have had. Try to get some sort of activity in every day, whether it’s a run/walk or a 5-minute stretch at home.
    • There is a huge amount of content available online, so it’s already become a flooded market. Stick to a routine, block out time in your diary and plan your workouts. If you know your favourite studio does a daily video at 8:30, put it in your diary and commit to that workout – if you’re a manager, respect that time. Plan your cardio days and your weight days so you don’t have to decide on the day.
    • For HR managers, I’d recommend they signpost employees continuously to ensure they have adequate resources that allow them to be physically active. Encourage them to fit this into their ‘9-5’ by offering flexibility to schedules. For a number of working professionals, they might have their kids at home now so make sure they know about options that also include family activities.

    Gympass is renowned for its support of workplace mental health initiatives. How are you calling on what you’ve learned to help manage the coronavirus crisis?

    Our mental health initiatives have always been employee-led. We are extremely lucky to have a number of passionate employees (including senior leadership) to ensure we are supporting the mental health of one another. What we know so far about mental health is that it’s extremely important to have ‘something for everyone’. We have a number of initiatives from the MyWholeSelf campaign by MHFA to a ‘Locker Room’ for our male colleagues. Storytelling and sharing is really powerful and can help employees relate to different employees that they may not have thought they related to previously.

    What’s the most rewarding thing about your job? 

    Now more than ever, I feel very lucky to be working for a company that has such a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Our clients have such a huge influence – they cover almost 2 million employees in the UK alone – and it’s definitely rewarding to know that the work I’m doing is going towards making the lives of those people that bit better during this crisis. The way that people eat, sleep and exercise is going to be critical over the next few weeks and months, and we’re able to make a difference to all three.

    What advice are you using to steer you through the crisis?

    I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now and I’ve been re-reading sections to keep me focused. He emphasises the importance of staying focused on the present moment, rather than fixating on the past or future. When you start to do that, you realise how rarely you do it normally. With things as they are, it’s easy to get lost in thoughts about what might be coming next. By focusing on the ‘now’ removes unnecessary stress and leaves you more appreciative of the present.

    What is your favourite virtual class at the moment?

    I’ve meditated on and off for the past couple of years and I’ve been using ZenFit, one of the partners available on Gympass, to practice every morning for the past couple of weeks. It’s sometimes hard to fit it into a busy schedule, but I’d guess that 10 minutes’ meditation gives me an extra hour of productivity every day!

    In 2025 we’ll all be talking about…?

    There seems to be a common assumption that the economic impact of this crisis will mean that the momentum that has built up around employee wellbeing will reverse in the next couple of years. I think (and hope) that the opposite will be true: the current situation is showing companies that their colleagues’ physical and mental health are of paramount importance.

    The best companies are in a strong situation right now: they have support systems for their staff that allow them to look after their wellbeing from home. Companies that don’t have that support in place will need to adapt quickly to ensure that their employees’ health is maintained in the short-term, and I’m hopeful that that will lead them to a longer-term commitment to wellbeing overall.



    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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