The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
What then does this mean for employers and employees? How and what should managers think and do about wellbeing?
Sickness absence costs in management time and lost productivity. Data from 2012 cited a cost of £29bn to the UK economy.
This amounts to a loss of 2% of the total economic output or around 5 working days of lost productivity for every employee.
Back pain and injury alone accounted for £15bn in 2012 as the biggest contributing cause of absence, overtaken in 2013 by stress and mental illness.
Little Management Interest
Despite these statistics, managers still do little to secure the wellbeing of their staff. Managers wait until staff fall sick before acting. Surely there must be financial sense in promoting a healthier workplace and lifestyle?
Appropriate interventions have been shown to deliver a 3:1 return on investment. Interventions not only reduce absenteeism but also lower staff turnover and improve productivity and engagement.
Benefits of Activity
If stress and mental illness are now the biggest cause of sick days and long-term absence, then managers need to address the stressors at work. They need to ensure that an employee’s role at work, their relationships and the organisational structure are conducive to a healthy working environment.
But, managers can provide a healthy-lifestyle and well-being programme to further increase employees’ ability to cope with the stressors of today’s work environment. A well-being programme will improve staff resilience through physical and psychological adaptations. Physical activity protects against stress and resulting complications like mental illness including, depression and anxiety.
To build resilience and reduce absenteeism through sickness the Government has issued guidelines. These are 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, plus muscle strengthening work covering all major muscle groups on at least 2 days per week.
There’s a sharp rise in the number of hours that employees spend at work, with the average now standing at 9hrs 30minutes a day excluding commuting. It’s therefore now even more important to be as active as possible at work. But how can managers facilitate a more active work environment?
The Health and Safety Executive recommend taking regular breaks, moving every 30 minutes and completing a range of mobility exercises.
Many employees think this is unrealistic – they don’t have time to take breaks from their work. Managers therefore need to build this activity into the staff working day. There are many simple things that can be done. For example, encouraging staff to stand up to answer telephone calls burns 20% more calories than sitting.
Physical activity will not only improve employee mental health. It helps staff to be a healthy weight and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory illness, all vitally important as employees’ working age increases.
Additionally, managers can educate their workforce on nutrition and the principles of healthy eating. An appropriate diet improves productivity by providing the right fuel to the brain and protects the immune system, reducing the number of sick days taken per year. It also prevents diseases like diabetes.
Managers can’t control what food staff buy but they can at least guide them to eat healthily.
There’s much that managers can do to provide a healthier working environment. Here are examples:
- Biometric health screenings for all staff, with personal improvement plans;
- Workstation/work environment and posture analysis, with improvement reports;
- Seminars on aspects of healthy eating and wellbeing with personal improvement objectives;
- On-site fitness sessions for all or for high-risk staff with personal improvement objectives;
- Discounted on-site or off-site one-to-one fitness sessions;
- Supporting the Cycle to Work Scheme with loans for bicycles.
In return, managers can expect staff to respond by improving their health and nutrition and as a result reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.
Jenny Weller can be contacted via her firm, Rapid Results Personal Training.