It’s not just the essentially sedentary nature of many people’s working days that constitutes a health hazard. Modern living is full of temptations, not least in the fast-food outlets, stalls, bars and brasseries that dominate urban streets around the world. I sometimes wonder who eats all this food whose odour wafts past me every step I take.
What’s the biggest threat to our well-being, though? Stress. Why do so many executives follow strict exercise and dietary regimes? It’s not just that they are trying to keep physically fit; they also find that exercise takes their minds off their work for a moment, and helps them sleep at the end of the day. Physical fitness and mental well-being go hand in hand.
One of the most comprehensive studies this century was conducted with more than 1,200 public transport staff in Austin, Texas between 2003 and 2007. Part-funded by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a wellness project offered staff individual consultations with personal trainers, the use of a 24-hour fitness center, preventive screenings, healthier food options, cash incentives, newsletters,workshops, dietary counselling and help with giving up smoking.
Although the programme cost money in the first three years, it saved money in the two ensuing years and reduced absenteeism by 25 per cent. Participants typically became more physically active, lost weight, reduced their blood pressure and switched to more healthy food. Over a five-year period, the overall return on the investment was calculated to be 2:43.
At the workplace, there are simple things we can do to make these things available. For examples, encourage colleagues to cycle to work. Serve healthier food in staff restaurants. Offer fresh fruit instead of chocolate bars. Allow for proper lunch breaks so everyone has a chance to go outside for a while. Start an after-work running club. Put money aside to support sports teams that can bolster your employees’ pride in their company.
These things hardly require substantial capital outlay. Yet it’s remarkable how slow companies have been in recent years to take such small steps to improve their staff’s all-round health.
According to a survey of HR and finance managers by London South Bank University and health consultant Vielife, a mere 41 per cent of companies discuss employee health and well-being at board level. The report’s authors say this reveals a ‘wellness gap’ – which brings us on to an even more striking figure. While 67 per cent think that employee wellness should be a corporate performance management factor, only 25 per cent of employers have introduced performance measures linked to health and wellness.
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