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Let’s get physical

05 July 2011

Let’s get physical

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With the health of the nation at risk, there’s never been a better time to bring employees together for sports and other physical wellbeing initiatives. It can have escaped few people’s notice that, while the economy recovers, the health of the people critical to maintaining its momentum is heading in the opposite direction. And with the health of children now also at risk, it’s time we all did something to improve the nation’s health.  Take the recent surge in type 2 diabetes, linked to unhealthy lifestyles. There may be as many as 850,000 people who don’t realise they have this potentially life threatening illness, on top of the 2.8 million already diagnosed. Government statistics also indicate that, in England, nearly a quarter of adults are classed as obese – with those affected at greater risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis or strokes. From employers facing spiralling health premiums, to those fed-up with covering for sick colleagues, there are no winners resulting from UK plc’s deteriorating health.

Fit for purpose

Poor physical fitness may not be as newsworthy as issues with mental health or emotional wellbeing – but it’s no less important for a happy, industrious workforce. The health and ability of your workers to attend and perform at work is not only one of your most important business drivers but people at peak vitality are also more likely to be motivated, creative and productive at work and less prone to becoming stressed or fatigued.

The good news is that when it comes to optimising the vitality of their workers, employers can be proactive without being dictatorial. Having helped numerous HR Directors to substantially reduce absence levels by putting in place vitality programmes, ranging from smoking cessation and diet clubs to wellbeing days featuring health screening and expert nutrition advice, I’ve been struck by just how valued these sorts of initiatives are by employees.

Far from viewing their employer’s efforts to boost their wellbeing as being an unwelcome intrusion into their personal lives, investment in something as simple as free health screening makes employees feel valued and invested in way beyond the actual cost of the test. Plus the positive peer pressure associated with fun practical initiatives, such as walk to work competitions or even team sports, not only makes it easier for employees to stick to a new health regime than going it alone, but also fosters better teamwork and friendships.

 

Fully vitalised

For many organisations, optimising vitality is now as much a component of their ‘employer brand’ as efforts to support work-life balance and career development. The challenge, as with so many workplace initiatives, is changing the culture of the organisation from one where people make excuses not to look after themselves and managers think it’s okay for people to miss lunch and work into the night, into one where people are fully vitalised and able to achieve far more within the limits of the working day.

Let’s not be naïve – for many people, the route to vitality may be a real grind, and we’re all capable of falling by the wayside. But nor should we let detractors convince us that physical wellbeing is beyond our grasp. There’s no reason that economic recovery shouldn’t also be accompanied by a corresponding upturn in the nation’s health – and after that, who knows what we’ll be capable of? Let’s get physical!

Join the Twitter debate: Each month Validium will be tweeting our take on a hot employment issue at @ValidiumEAP. Join the debate by telling us what you think.

One in four Britons is so fat their health is threatened. Should employers be doing more to influence diet at work?