Workers aren’t taking enough exercise and sedentary thinking isn’t helping.

July 21, 2017    Andrew Peers     

For too long, office workers have been a sedentary bunch and new figures show that old habits die hard. A survey by PureGym has revealed that one third of UK office workers are failing to get the NHS’ recommended exercise quota of 150 minutes per week and more than two thirds of those cite work pressure as the reason why.

As businesses look to find more effective and innovative ways to unlock greater productivity and attract and retain the highest calibre candidates, employee health and wellbeing has become all important.

Sick days cost the UK economy a great deal. During 2016, a staggering 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury. With our sedentary behaviours causing an increased risk of heart disease, muscular degeneration, diabetes and even some cancers, it’s no surprise that sitting is considered the new smoking. For organisations with largely desk-based employees, this presents a very real health concern and a significant business risk.

Employers have started to accept their duty of care to employees as they recognise that better employee health not only frees those individuals from the burden of sickness, it also makes for a much happier and more able workforce, plus it lowers business costs, unlocks greater productivity and reduces business risk. The argument is simple and compelling.

The key to making the nation more active lies in behavioural change, and campaigns such as Get Britain Standing have started translating the need for better employee health into tangible actions and guidance for employers. Although more attention has been placed on how to make more wellbeing-orientated environments in recent years, it is the cultural support systems that really determine whether behavioural change succeeds or fails.

One of the best pieces of advice a change management consultant can give is to make change easy. If the new required behaviour is the default option, or the easiest to adopt, then you are well on the way to achieving long-lasting change. With that in mind, here are five ways to help make workplaces and employees more active and engaged, with minimal spend and effort:

  1. Get standing.
    Standing is far better than sitting, a fact that has been borne out in studies from a wide variety of medical professionals and research bodies. Reducing sitting by a few hours each day can not only reduce the effects of sedentary lifestyles, it can help with weight loss and energy levels too. Make this the ‘new habit’ by removing chairs from some meeting rooms and replacing the tables with taller ones. Standing meetings are not only better for employee health, they also increase productivity by reducing meeting length and increasing focus. In addition, look to introduce standing desks within the workplace. Consider a pilot first to see how the business takes to the change. Height-settable standing desks give employees the option to change their working position throughout the day and can be programmed to alert the user when it’s time to get active.
  2. Incentivise and reward adoption.
    Consider how to encourage and reward health and wellbeing-orientated efforts. Perhaps employees could be given pedometers to encourage them to hit a daily target, with rewards for those that meet or exceed it. This could even turn into a CSR project with steps logged turning into pounds for a local charity. Make it clear that fitness and wellbeing is actively supported and encouraged as part of your corporate and cultural values.
  3. Introduce ‘walking meetings’.
    Walking at a gentle pace is a more stimulating alternative to sitting in a meeting room.  While it might not work for highly confidential matters or large team meetings, it does provide a simple way for smaller gatherings to get mobile. Make it the norm by introducing this at board level and letting employees see that senior managers are adopting the required behaviour.
  4. Take a closer look at your culture.
    Could you do more to support employees with the strains of the job?  Are you offering subsidised gym membership but admonishing those taking a lunch break to use it?  Have a clear idea of the wellbeing behaviours that will benefit the business and look at the cultural changes needed to make that happen. Perhaps wellbeing could become a standard part of all employee reviews, or regular lunch breaks and rest periods could become a mandatory part of the wellbeing policy?
  5. Make it easy and introduce lunchtime activities such as yoga, park walks, etc.
    Make wellbeing a daily consideration in your workplace. Organise a raft of workplace-based wellbeing activities to encourage employees to take care of themselves. Workplace yoga, mindfulness, nutrition and cooking classes are becoming increasingly common workplace activities for wellbeing-focused employers.

It’s no longer enough to deal with sickness in a reactive way. Employers now understand that health and wellbeing is a proactive and necessary way to reduce sickness and the associated effects on individuals’ lives and the fortunes of the company. Now a boardroom issue, employee wellbeing must not be viewed with derision or dismissed as a fad.  It is the first step to ensuring a healthy, productive and effective workforce. After all, healthy employees make healthy businesses.

To find out more about workplace wellbeing and how to write a wellbeing agenda, download our Workplace Wellbeing whitepaper, which is full of guidance and advice:



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