The View

Let’s not kid ourselves: gyms are for workouts, not working

Health clubs that promote themselves as workspaces are just playing games

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 10:56am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 10:45pm

Gyms are much in the news in Hong Kong at the moment, as the California Fitness collapse saga emphasises. However worrying gym news is not confined to the SAR; there are also truly troubling reports on this front coming out of the United States.

We are now hearing proud, yes proud, accounts of how gyms – or health clubs as they now like to be known – are also being used as workspaces. Indeed some of these establishments are shamelessly encouraging this mixing of functions by installing offices, sorry that should be “lounges”, where club members can effortlessly slide from pumping iron to tapping away at their various electronic devises.

Bearing in mind that some readers may be of a sensitive disposition, I hesitate to dwell on the personal hygiene issues that arise here, however this is a lesser issue compared to the objectionable notion that no leisure area is too big or too small to double up as a work area. Don’t get me wrong I am not some kind of puritan who believes that you should not mix business with pleasure but my experience of this mixture is that pleasure usually wins.

There is nothing wrong with that but let’s not kid ourselves; much of what passes for mixing work with pleasure is little more than using the company’s money for having a good time.

In this context I have very happy memories of being taken out to long, wine-fuelled lunches when working as a financial reporter in the City of London; it is entirely possible that business was discussed but don’t ask for details as it is just possible that a couple bottles of fine Bordeaux or maybe a plucky Sancerre did little to enhance clarity.

Much of what passes for mixing work with pleasure is little more than using the company’s money for having a good time

However a good time was had by all and I would generously reciprocate with the benefit of my employer’s largesse to ensure that the wheels kept turning smoothly. If challenged on the value of this I resorted to the glib assertion – actually we all used it – that we were making contacts and fostering relationships that would prove their value over time. Are you convinced? I guess not, as the truth is that I had equally valuable news-yielding relationships with people who had never so much as shared a tonic, let alone a gin and tonic, with me.

However, the “pain” of all this arduous entertaining was greatly eased by using other folk’s money. When it comes to fronting up your own folding notes, it is quite another story – a lesson I have learned with rapidity after forming my own companies.

I have also learned that work is more effectively performed in the workplace and that leisure should not be sullied by mixing it with work. Yes, yes, there are, of course, exceptions to this rule but they do not include setting up workspaces in gyms.

Why so? Because the whole concept of leisure and relaxation is precisely to facilitate relaxation and provide a break from other activities; people write whole books on this subject but they can be summed up precisely as stated above.

That is not to say that injecting a big dollop of leisure activity into the day cannot enhance work performance. In my case I find that a long swim can clear the mind and help resolve lingering problems. But I most definitely do not intend to set up a poolside workstation on this pretext.

What I think is really happening in these gym workspaces is that people, who feel somewhat guilty over spending too much time doing whatever people do in gyms (dreadful places) kid themselves that if they also go there to work this somehow makes them more productive.

This is followed by a self-righteous declaration that they are on the job even when they are not. Self-delusion is not a happy state of affairs and it is sad to see so many American health clubs fostering delusions of this kind. It can only be a matter of time before this virus extends to Hong Kong, assuming that local health clubs have better survivability than Messers California.

Work patterns have changed enormously in recent times, meaning that many people no longer do their jobs in traditional workplaces. However it is one thing to, say, work at home, a place where many other activities are performed, and quite another to wander off to a leisure centre and kid yourself that this is also a workplace. Working at home or even in a coffee shop requires concentration and discipline. Melding leisure and work activity is little short of playing games.

My main objection to this however is the holier than thou attitudes that are bred in these circumstances: “you come to the gym just to exercise, I’m here to do real work”. Yeah, right.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong broadcaster, writer and entrepreneur