How Exercising at Work Affects Employee Focus

exercise at work
Topic(s): Health & Safety, job performance, wellness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2022)
Article: Is Physical Activity Before the End of the Workday a Drain or a Gain? Daily Implications on Work Focus in Regular Exercisers
Authors: L.L. ten Brummelhuis, C. Calderwood, C.C. Rosen, A.S. Gabriel
Reviewed by: Shayla Bianchi

After-work exercise allows employees to return to work the next day feeling more energized and refreshed. However, it remains unknown how exercising during the workday influences work outcomes and employee effectiveness on that same day. One possibility is that some employees may derive a sense of satisfaction from working out, which could lead to better employee effectiveness. On the other hand, particularly for those who find exercise to be a chore, working out may be a draining activity that inhibits employee effectiveness. 


Researchers (Taylor et al., 2022) assessed employees using Fitbit activity trackers and daily surveys. Results showed that light physical activity before the end of the workday was related to increased self-efficacy – or the belief that one can be successful. This, in turn, was related to increased work focus. Physical activity did not result in the draining of personal resources, known as ego depletion.

Employees who are more externally motivated to exercise, or those who only do so out of necessity, had higher levels of self-efficacy and work focus when they engaged in moderate physical activity. Only internally motivated employees who enjoy working out benefitted from the improved work focus associated with vigorous physical activity. 

Interestingly, employees who were internally motivated to exercise experienced an unexpected decrease in self-efficacy following moderate intensity workouts. These individuals may need more challenging workouts to receive the benefits of exercising during the workday.


The researchers suggest several practical applications of these findings. Overall, they suggest that organizations should encourage all employees to engage in light physical activity during work breaks. However, they also recommend that wellness programs be designed in a way that considers the motivation of the employees. By providing opportunities for high intensity exercise, such as offering access to a gym, companies can more adequately support workers who enjoy working out. For employees who want to gain the benefits of exercise but do not enjoy it as much, a better option may be moderate physical activity, such as step count challenges.


ten Brummelhuis, L. L., Calderwood, C., Rosen, C. C., & Gabriel, A. S. (2022). Is physical activity before the end of the workday a drain or a gain? Daily implications on work focus in regular exercisers. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.