“We want to bring that high-school feeling where there’s pep rallies and they’re cheering on their best athletes.”

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Spirit Naked Hub plank challenge

Jordan Campbell started out founding an events company and ended up with a corporate wellness company. The market demanded it.

In 2012, Shanghai-based Campbell started Verve, an events company that aimed to offer options for firms beyond the cookie-cutter package, such as company and client sports outings. Before long, his clients began coming to him with a request: they wanted Verve’s level of team bonding and engagement not from only their clients, but also from their own staff.

Around Asia, the workplace has become a top source of stress for many. In the Innovation Group’s new report, “The Well Economy: APAC Edition,” 36% of respondents in five countries surveyed say their job or workplace is a source of stress, second only to personal finances, which 48% cite as a source of stress. 73% say stress is a top risk factor related to becoming unwell.

In China, the work culture can be grueling and tech companies in particular see a staff turnover rate of six to eight months.

Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to see half a million people in China participating in some type of fitness activity by 2020. But while China’s first- and second-tier cities have seen an explosion of gyms, juice bars and fitness clubs, not many of these have managed to penetrate the workplace.

Campbell launched Spirit in 2017. It helps companies motivate their employees through gamified fitness, with the ultimate goal of creating happier and more productive workplaces.

We ask Campbell about his philosophies on work-life balance, how his corporate wellness endeavor drives results, and his next steps in an increasingly demanding Chinese and global market.

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Spirit team engagement boxing event

Tell us how Spirit works.

I saw there was a huge niche in the market for the growing demand for wellness. What Spirit does right now is engage and gamify communities and departments within corporates through sports and through wellness. This is a holistic platform that we built that in essence has three main functions.

The first is to the benefit of the staff, for them to get to know each other and bond a bit better. China is not like in the West, where we play sports in high school. In China, up until the age of 18, it’s about focusing on the big test, the gaokao. So 95% of the people we interview said, “We never really played sports in school.” We’re reintroducing that into the corporate workplace because there’s nothing that bonds people more together than wellness and sports.

Weekly or biweekly, we send in trainers of all descriptions based on the employees’ choice of activity. One week, they might want to do boxing, another week, pilates, and it’s all functionally done in the office. If it’s a small company and they don’t have the space, then we’re partnered up with WeWork and Reebok so we can go to their gyms.

The main idea is to do activities together. It’s not about who’s the fittest or the least fit, it’s about fun, it’s team building at the same time, and it’s happening on a regular basis. It’s about consistency.

But you also have a tracking and metric platform, right?

This is so we can see the progress of each employee, because the ultimate aim is to be more productive, to increase sales, increase happiness, increase loyalty to the business, and also to decrease insurance premiums. That’s the big one we’ve seen in the past year—now insurance companies are coming to us and saying if a client has a wellness platform in their company, they pay less premiums on their insurance because naturally they’re going to claim less.

How do you track participants?

We’re partnered up with a company called Orangetheory Fitness. They are working with us to get the most basic metrics that you can get, starting with participation. The more participation you get, the more points you get, which are redeemable through extra days leave, as a company holiday, or dinner with the boss or a benefit of some sort, new clothes from Reebok, and so on.

We also have Orangetheory’s wearable technology. At the beginning with a client, as many of their staff will join as possible and we’ll take all of their vitals and then encourage them by saying we’re going to give you the opportunity in three months for you to actually see your improvement. In order to do that, you need to try to attend as many sessions as you can. Because naturally, the fitter someone is, the more healthy they’re feeling and the more engaged they are. Even if they’re not even fitter, they might just be happier because they’ve been with their colleagues and then the more productive they become.

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Spirit team engagement event

Is anyone else in Shanghai doing what Spirit is trying to do right now?

No one is doing exactly we’re doing in the market. Our competitors are either gyms or they’re only wellness companies that occasionally do a seminar on nutrition. But what we’re doing is combining all of those and making it more of a team thing, and it’s also being tracked so you can tie it into HR incentives.

Where do you see Spirit headed?

Our vision is building an online platform whereby each company can actually have their own data. For example, if it’s the weight-loss challenge over the first quarter, they can look at who or which department has most improved at this. This competitive, fun element can be private or it can be done publicly, with the ultimate aim being for these companies to actually compete against each other at wellness and at sports.

We’ve already built this intellectual property: the corporate Olympics. The vision is that there’s 20,000 people, and there’s people sponsoring it—maybe a healthy smoothie company or a health food company sponsoring the whole Olympics. In that stadium, just like in America with college football, for example, the whole idea is we want to bring that high-school feeling where there’s pep rallies the week before and they’re cheering on their best athletes. So, 1,000 people from KPMG, 500 from Deloitte, 1,000 from Nike, Adidas, et cetera, all cheering on their best athletes. 

You already have global firms on your client list—is this generally an initiative these companies have in their other outposts, or is it unique to China at the moment?

It’s definitely unique to China, 100%. And we’re finding that after only a year of operation, we don’t need to sell Spirit because they’re coming to us.

Right now, there are wellness companies that will send in nutritional speakers, or there are bigger companies such as Johnson & Johnson that have money to be able to install a gym, install good food, install healthy programs, and have full-time staff dedicated to wellness in the workplace. But what we’re finding is that most companies cannot do that, so Spirit builds the holistic DNA within the company on wellness and engaging and invigorating their employees.

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Spirit in office engagement activity

Why do you think China has fostered growth for a company like Spirit?

I think Spirit is something that can grow anywhere. In the West it might be an even easier sell right now because the mindset is already there. But in China it’s being seeded in mostly by, I imagine, the President, because he’s said he wants 500 million Chinese people to actively be doing some form of sports on a daily basis by 2020. The compound annual growth rate that’s projected for wellness until 2024 is 9.1%. The wellness space is going to grow because it’s been given the encouragement by the upper echelons of the government.

Secondly, the mindset is shifting a little bit. There are more and more gyms popping up, more people are health conscious, more are looking at what they eat, whether their food is processed properly and so on. So, naturally, that transition is being made through an awareness of a lack of real engagement in the workplace. Companies are crying out for ways to keep their employees engaged, motivated, feeling part of a team, because at the end of the day friendships at work are a huge by-product of playing sports or doing some sort of wellness together. Even if you’re doing yoga together, you’re going to start a conversation. Whereas where the world is right now, you go to lunch with your colleagues and everyone’s just on their phone and the occasional person will look up and say something and look back down to eat.

Are companies working with you seeing tangible results?

We’ve looked at the companies that we’ve worked with in the past year–obviously it was limited data because it was only what we could get that year. Five companies we interviewed since bringing on our wellness programs were growing at an average of 30% before the wellness program, which is good. Now they’re edging at 120% growth. And the only variable that changed was investing in their staff through wellness. That, for me, was the most interesting part out of the whole thing.

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Spirit in office engagement activity

That’s pretty incredible. But sometimes, when a company installs a gym, it can seem like a ploy to get people to stay in the office longer.

I know what you mean. Johnson & Johnson, for example, started working with us even though they have a huge gym. We looked at it and everything was amazing, but no one was in it. In China, not as many people are familiar with the gym, so they’re afraid of it or they’re afraid of working out in front of other people. And if it’s not a group activity that’s being led, then fewer people are going to be engaged. Even for someone who likes to go to the gym, even for someone who thinks they look good, there’s still that fear of going in front of other people and working out. So this is why we make it fun and engaging and part of a community.

What does work-life balance mean for you?

At the end of the day, the concept of work-life balance makes it seem like there’s a separation between work and life. I believe it’s more circular, in that if you’re happy at home, you’re generally going to be happy at work. But, more importantly, if you’re happy at work, you’re going to be even happier at home. It’s so important that people realize that it’s not OK to just think, “I get home from work, and then it’s my life.” It’s a whole blend. And if the workplace doesn’t feel like a workplace, you’re going to be far more productive.

For more on how health and wellness is evolving in Asia, see our “The Well Economy: APAC Edition” report.