Encouraging a Healthier Workforce – Balance is Key

There are many ways in which the employer is able to encourage a balanced approach to health amongst their workforce; despite the fact that many workers are still in this day and age, falling prey to a culture of little exercise and even more fast food.

Regardless of the fact that the government has taken on massive anti–obesity advertising drives in the past; so-called British reserve sees GP’s not raising basic weight and lifestyle indicators with patients in an increasingly overweight nation. Internationally the health-trend indicators are towards individuals being more responsible for their own health, and the UK is no different in wanting to encourage this mindset.

The Statistics

While sickness absence rates fell during the recession; in the last quarter of 2010, these figures were seen to go up once again; with 2.5% of all workers reporting in the Labour Force Survey that they had been absent from work in the previous week for minor illness. In 2009 sickness absence rates cost the UK economy £16.8 billion!

Employers may embrace various concepts and make them easily accessible in order to prevent an increasingly unhealthy workforce, reduce staff turnover, build team morale and reduce sickness levels.

This includes but is by no means limited to; supporting the ‘Fit for Work’ initiative, managing stress in the workplace and communicating health objectives with employees. It has become increasingly important for employers to climb on the “healthy workers” bandwagon.

A Caring Approach

It is amazing what a caring approach can do – you catch more flies with honey than vinegar; right?! It is important for employers to care about the health and wellbeing of employees.

For example at Ipswich Building Society, they have introduced a “healthy workplace” strategy successfully and this has benefitted employees as well as their business. Staff are much happier, healthier and also working more efficiently.

Working as a close team and with their HR department, employees were questioned about health initiatives and what they believed would be suitable, so this was a fully inclusive and transparent process. They chose activities with a balanced view which were appropriate to their needs and interests. For example finding an exercise partner with whom you can lose a few pounds and get fit or finding support to give up smoking.

Getting business leaders involved
As strong leadership shows commitment to a cause and helps to turn ideas into action; both their executive and management teams participate in regular physical activities. This boosts motivation in employees, encourages team spirit and the company has benefitted from a reduced staff turnover which as we all know can be an expensive exercise in itself.

Provide the tools to help your employees achieve their goals

They offer guidance and advice on nutrition and exercise and in 2008 the Ipswich Building Society became a workplace trailblazer for the ‘Fit for Work’ initiative. They offer dedicated Fit for Work rooms with Wii Fit for employees to use in lunch-breaks. A lunch-time walking group has also been developed based on the principle of getting your recommended 10 000 steps a day.

There is a shower room, a covered cycle store for those who want to cycle to and from work, and a meeting room is used for an after hours yoga class – which alone reduced stress in 18% of their employees! Stress related illness and issues are one of the biggest causes of staff sickness absence – in particular for women.

These adaptations have clearly made life and work easier for employees, with next to no cost to implement should we all be implementing a healthy initiatives programme, do you not want to be a health in the workplace trailblazer?

Make the most of your group health insurance

If you have a group private medical insurance in place already you should look at the additional benefits that are provided, a number of insurers now offer points based systems and healthy living discounts for proactive employees and organisations who take a healthier approach to life. Not only could it help reduce your premiums but it could help develop your Fit for Work initiative.