What Will Fitness Driven Employee Benefit Options Look Like in 2021?

Reimbursement of gym memberships, via employer benefit programs, were popular prior to March 2020 (AKA – pre-COVID-19) but since the pandemic shut-down gyms have become obsolete and these types of reimbursements may not be feasible for employers in the future.

Many in the fitness industry believe that with the cleaning protocols and restrictions that have been put in place, that the gym industry may never be the way it was, prior to March 2020.

Despite being unable to go to an actual gym, exercise and self-care has become even more vital during quarantine.

Because of this dilemma, many employers are finding it difficult to determine which fitness-related benefits to offer as the United States moves from complete lockdown to a quasi-sense of normalcy.

This blog dives into how the workout industry has changed and some potential options that could be of interested, in lieu of gym memberships.

Interest in Traditional Gym Memberships Continues to Diminish:

 For those employer groups who decide to stay the course and subsidize gym memberships should move forward with the understanding that participation may look quite different now.

A recent study of 2,000 gym members conducted by Life Poll (June 2020) states:

  • 25% of participants would never go back to a gym after the pandemic
  • 42% now have a home-gym and prefer this method of working out
  • 62% believe mask requirements for gyms should continue
  • 26% state that if a gym required a mask, they would not participate at that gym

These statistics will most likely change over time but there is a vast amount of evidence that shows the country’s attitude toward safety and cleanliness has become much more conservative.

For those groups that still choose to pursue options, such as gym reimbursement benefits, there are still a wide variety of carriers that will work to help them establish and implement these programs.

The great news, for those groups that do pursue gym reimbursement benefits, is that they are in no-part ‘obligated,’ to offer these benefits therefore, the employer can also determine the criteria to earn the benefit, the percentage paid and how to qualify for the benefit.

While there is a lot of decision making that is left up to the employer group, you should always consult with your counsel to ensure you are being compliant and not violating HIPPA, ADA or any other laws pertaining to discrimination.

Employer groups should also remember that gym reimbursement benefits are a taxable benefit under the IRS guidelines.

Positives of Gym Memberships:

Typically, individuals who exercise on a regular basis will be healthier, have few chronic conditions, be sick less (i.e. less sick days from work) and will have higher energy/focus levels.  From this standpoint, this will usually lower insurance premiums for the group by reducing the number of claims filed by those participating in the plan.

According to an article published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, gym membership reimbursement and a focus on well-being and wellness, reduced employer related health costs by almost 19% per employee.

This figure should factor into budgeting, when planning for employee benefits.  With this average amount of savings, this can enhance an employer’s portfolio of benefits offered to the group, while still meeting budgetary restraints.

Offsite v. Onsite Options:

Some companies, depending on size and space available, often consider putting a fitness area on-site.  Many times, this is a time-saver and a convenience for employees, as they can workout before and/or after work hours without having a further commute time.

The average cost (by Entrepreneur Magazine) for a facility is anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000.  The initial investment is always a concern to employers but when considering what the offset would be for reimbursing outside gym memberships, this is typically a long-term cost savings.

Other options, rather than building an on-site gym facility, is to hire an instructor that can complete exercise classes without expensive equipment, such as yoga.  Implementing these classes, rather than putting in an entire gym, can save the employer large sums of money while still providing a viable fitness option for their employees.

Virtual/On-Demand Fitness:

Just like the Netflix revolution for television viewing, on-demand and virtual fitness options are becoming more and more popular during this unique time-period.  Many employers believe that even post-pandemic, working remotely is the new normal, therefore virtual/on-demand fitness options are a new approach to fitness.  Many individuals require motivation in order to complete their workouts and virtual group fitness classes can continue to hold these people accountable, while also allowing individuals to connect outside of business-related calls.

The options are limitless when it comes to virtual workouts.  These include but are not limited to bootcamp workouts, weight loss kickstart workouts, yoga and meditation classes, cycling, kickboxing and the list goes on.

Most of these virtual/on-demand options are set up in a similar way; the employee would select a particular workout at a time it would be available and there is an onscreen instructor to lead a virtual group workout session.  These can be live but other times are recorded for more of an ‘on-demand,’ feel to the workout.  Although you do lose the social aspect to the ‘on-demand,’ type workout, it does provide the ultimate convenience in working out at your leisure.

These same “workout platforms,” that offer on-demand workouts are now offering online cooking and nutrition classes, meditation seminars, breathing classes and a variety of other wellness options to couple with their exercise videos.

From a cost perspective, these on-line classes can be administered for a fraction of the cost that an employer would spend on a traditional gym membership or installing an on-site workout facility, all the while providing the ultimate convenience to your employees in order to focus on their health.  There are plenty of free virtual workout apps as well as subscription-based apps.


As mindsets continue to move from the “traditional membership gym” to other means of exercise and healthy living, these are just a few of the creative options available to employers that choose to subsidize workout related benefits.  This short list is some of the most popular options, but many employers have taken a more creative approach, such as reimbursing for home fitness equipment, reimbursement for athletic events, etc.  These solutions can be as creative or as cookie-cutter as the employer is willing to take on.

Right now, more than ever, it is vital that employers keep encouraging their employees to continue to exercise both their minds and bodies.  There is no right or wrong solution to help your employees stay engaged with their health but rather it is most important that options are provided to help motivate them during this unique time period.



Comments are closed