Opinion

Why the sport and leisure industry will play a major role in the future of UK business

6 min read

26 August 2016

We all strive for a work/life balance but are UK businesses doing enough to enable employees to embrace real change in their lives, helping them to improve overall health and wellbeing?

There are countless reasons why the sport and leisure industry will play a vital role for all of us in the future, the future of our economy and the ways in which we all live and prosper. Limited awareness or acceptance of the side effects of inactivity and too many of us living a sedentary lifestyle, are challenges that face a large proportion of the UK population right now. On the flip side of this we see elite sport being continually improved upon and invested in, from food and nutrition based developments and testing, to scientific research into physical and mental agility and coaching. Recent successes at the Rio 2016 Olympics were testament to the advances in sport and training for Team GB. 

Yet with all of the studies and understanding of how the human body works, and the importance of physical activity on not just our mechanical but also our mental wellbeing, why are we not improving as a nation overall? Why are we not embracing the link between physical and mental fitness and the knock on effect of how this impacts our performance at work? Why are so many of us still spending our entire working day with little movement or activity?

The negative effects of long-term desk-based working are being seen in many first world countries. Health related disease has become our biggest killer in the UK and estimated figures issued by the government show that physical inactivity could cost the UK economy by up to £20bn per year.

In 2015, UK Active, the leading not-for-profit body for the physical activity sector, worked with a coalition of health experts to address the UK’s physical activity pandemic. A blueprint for “Active Britain” was created which, amongst other recommendations, made a call to have personal trainers accessible in every GP surgery and at every Job Centre.

Employers however also have an important role to play and need to look more closely at improving the workplace environment and working flexibility, to help staff make positive changes. Organisations already operating in the sport and leisure sector – leisure centres, sports clubs, fitness trainers and groups – will, in future, become more involved in supporting people throughout the workplace to become more active and maintain fitness levels. Employers will undoubtedly see positive change across the workforce as a result, from increased levels of output to improvements in staff contentment and overall wellbeing.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines for employers and professionals in small, medium and large organisations that includes the following recommendation: Develop an organisation-wide plan and introduce and monitor an organisation-wide, multi-component programme to encourage and support employees to be more physically active. (This could be part of a broader programme to improve health.)

From another perspective we’ve also seen for many years elite sports men and women becoming motivational speakers and coaches in the business environment and the success of applying track or pitch side techniques in the boardroom. It’s not just the physical benefits of embracing sport that can make a difference at work but lessons can also be learned from the way teams are coached and motivated and leaders developed. 

Any forward thinking 21st century business can see the benefits of staff having a good work/life balance and a healthy body and mind, and yet the sport and leisure industry is facing significant challenges right now, at a time when we need it to grow and prosper.
The UK government is looking to the sport and leisure sector to step up to support public health, physical activity and sporting futures policies. There is some recognition amongst public bodies that the epidemic has begun to take hold and we need to act now to stem the growth of obesity and chronic health conditions.

The next few years for the sport and leisure sector are crucial as funding, apprenticeships and associated long and short-term skills shortages are negotiated and hopefully resolved.  The role to be played by the sector, in terms of training and maintaining a workforce fit for the 21st century workplace, is a vital one that will not only improve aspirations and expectations, but by proxy will also improve the longevity of our businesses.

Gary Denton is MD of Icon Training.

Image: Shutterstock

Watching British long-distance runner Mo Farah romp to victory in Olympics 10,000m final, after falling earlier in the race, got me thinking: should we all be ready for setbacks and know how to respond accordingly?