As the recession starts to recede and companies look to compete in a changed business environment, a new enemy has appeared from the mist – inactivity. It’s a sign of the sedentary times when the UK was rated as the third most inactive population in Europe in a 2012 study by The Lancet, with only a third of adults getting sufficient exercise. Businesses have an even greater fight on their hands in turning an office of demotivated employees into a dynamic and innovative unit, ready to take advantage of the UK economy’s next growth spurt.
So, the battle lines are drawn, and business leaders need to ask themselves how they can motivate their troops to tackle inactivity.
Below are six simple tips from the front line.
1. Leave no man behind
Understanding that different exercise works for different people is the name of the game. It’s no use trying to persuade everyone in the office to join the five-a-side team when you only have two football fans. Offer a variety of options that will appeal to all, be it badminton, bowls or Bikram Yoga.
2. Run drills
Regular exercise is more important than workout bursts. The office needs to be an active and dynamic place that promotes movement throughout the day. Be militant and use tea rotas to get people out of seats or a charity tax on those using the lift rather than the stairs without good medical reason. People need to be reminded that everyone benefits from being up and active, so encourage people to use different areas of the office to chat and be sociable.
3. Chain of command
Where is an army without its generals? Any serious attempt to tackle inactivity will need to have an office champion. Skip the office fun-runner and look for someone senior to promote a healthy lifestyle and a bustling atmosphere. Your leader shouldn’t be afraid to set an example and take ten minutes away from their desk to rest their eyes, stretch their legs and interact with their colleagues.
4. Give the troops what they want
Why not have a staff budget to be spent on workplace activity perks? £20 per employee is not a huge investment and you can be certain your employees will have something they value. People can discuss what they would like in the office and either get something small, such as an exercise ball, or team up to purchase a Wii, a table tennis table or even a bike or scooter for breaks.
5. The road to victory
While a lot can be done inside the office there really is no substitute for getting people out into the sunlight. As the hours of daylight get fewer this is all the more important. Suggest places to visit and use a scoreboard to turn ticking off local landmarks into a competition.
6. Who dares wins
Organisations need to make a commitment to being active in the office. This can mean putting resources into it or asking those at the top of the organisation to dedicate time to the issue. Why not make a real statement and have an office dog staff can take for walks, or even build a workplace allotment, anything to signal that you are an office that wants healthy and productive staff.
Not all businesses are built to win the war on inactivity and time will tell how much they might lose out when up against a competitor workforce that fizzes with energy and innovation. For many companies though, the fight is on to combat inactivity. And they need to make sure they’re ready for battle.
Dr Jenny Leeser is clinical director of occupational health at Bupa.
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