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You are currently viewing Why you should promote physical activity in your workplace

Last week I gave a talk at the Bristol Institute of Directors monthly meeting on why employers should encourage employees to be more physically active and what they might do about it.  So this blog is one for you if you’re responsible for employees in your business.

A physically active workforce costs less.  According to the Department of Work and Pensions (Press Release, 10 February 2014), more than 130 million days are being lost to sickness absence in Britain each year costing the economy a staggering £100 billion a year.  More days were lost to back, neck and muscle pain than any other cause.  (It’s tempting here to list the reasons why Nordic walking is so good for back and neck health – but I won’t.  Instead, if you need a reminder click here).

You will have your own statistics on the costs to you of time lost through employee absence. A number of studies have looked at the impact of health and wellbeing on productivity.  All the data suggests that unless something is done to increase physical activity levels, the financial burden on companies through days lost to sickness will soar.

A healthy workforce is more productive.  This has a direct impact on the profitability of a company as well as morale.  One Australian study has suggested that employees who are healthy can be nearly three times more productive than employees in poor health.

A few weeks ago (5February 2015) the IoD issued a press release about the need for businesses to have a mental health policy.  It cited a YouGov survey in January 2015 which revealed that:

  • one-third of employees (32 per cent) say stress and anxiety make it difficult to get their work done;
  • 93 per cent of businesses say that personal worries and stress can adversely affect staff performance at work.

Something as straightforward as promoting physical activity may well have a profound impact on stress management.

Finally, don’t forget the powerful impact physical activity has on mood and employee engagement. A happy employee (and most people are when they’ve exercised) is a more productive employee, with higher energy levels, which which can be contagious. This energy is palpable and engaging and is particularly valuable if your business is client/customer facing.

So what can you do to promote your employees’ health and wellbeing?

NICE have a raft of recommendations in their guidance PH13. It’s well worth reading through this for ideas.  But in my view the solution is simple: Empower and enable your employees to take exercise into their own hands and lead by example. Here are some thoughts:

  • #Ditchthegym (maybe). Subsidised gym membership may have its place but a large number of people would rather be exercising in other ways. Many prefer groups to exercising solo.  We certainly have a lot of workers joining our evening Nordic walking classes and we rub along very happily beside British Military Fitness on The Downs!
  • If employees like cycling (or you want to encourage it), think about what cycle events are being run locally, who might be able to come in and give a bike maintenance workshop, or maybe even organise your own company cycle event – and get involved yourself.
  • On walking and running there are so many avenues to explore.  A good starting point could be a workshop on how to walk effectively for health and fitness (see my blog on the subject).  How about virtual walking? There are free websites that allow you to record your steps along virtual routes such as the Great Wall of China, the Cotswold Way and other trails. Not to forget the obvious organised marathons, half marathons, 5km and 10km races which are frequent and motivating.
  • Think about walking meetings, the ultimate in multi-tasking.  An opportunity to exercise, get business done and be outside. Also a powerful message to others about integrating physical activity into your working day.
  • Piggyback on the travel to work initiatives Bristol is promoting during its tenure as European Geen Capital 2015.  Join the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and promote your involvement.
  • Most of all, if you walk more, take the stairs (not the lift), take time to go for a walk at lunch (rather than just eating a sandwich at your desk), run/jog/shuffle a couple of times a week, then as the leader in your business people WILL take notice. You don’t need to ram it down their throats. If only a few follow your lead, you will have achieved a lot.

In summary, if you do doing nothing about physical activity in your workplace it may cost you – days lost to sickness and stress; underperformance; lack of engagement.  Promoting it need not cost and the benefits to your business could be potent.