The cost of an unhealthy workforce to the UK taxpayer has been estimated at over £60 billion per year1. Conversely, employees who are in good health tend to need less time off and are likely to be more productive2. It’s easy to understand therefore why an increasing number of companies are addressing the issue of corporate wellness.
According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity3 is the fourth biggest killer on the planet. Insufficient physical activity can lead to significant health issues, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and depression. While sedentary behaviour4 happens everywhere, an increasing proportion of our workforce spend prolonged periods of sitting at work. Physical health is closely linked to mental health so it’s no surprise that many work-based wellbeing initiatives are aimed at increasing employee physical activity. But what exactly is it that companies are doing to encourage employees to move more and is it actually having an impact?
While in-house gyms tend to be a luxury perk of working for a larger business, many companies offer employees corporate gym memberships, giving them substantial reductions on gyms in their local area. But with £37million wasted a year on unused gym memberships, exercise and slimming classes, it is questionable how many employees are actually benefitting from these ‘benefits’.
Of course, the thought of going to a gym is anathema to some people and companies are having to think more inclusively about their health initiatives. What might be both accessible and attractive to a broader cross section of employees?
One popular activity to sweep UK businesses is the 10,000 Steps Challenge. The idea is simple: motivate increased movement by hitting a 10,000 steps a day target. Add in an element of friendly collegiate competition and you’ve got a low budget, easy to implement initiative that even the smallest of businesses can promote. And many have.
Unfortunately, however, despite the good intentions that have led many companies to endorse the 10,000 Steps Challenge, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is an example of band wagon jumping. While it can only be argued that increasing our number of steps per day is a good thing, there is increasing scientific evidence to suggest that short bursts of brisk walking can have a much more positive impact on our health than longer, more gentle walks.
In light of this, the NHS now supports the walking initiative Active 10. The concept here is quality over quantity – a brisk 10 minute walk every day can make a difference to your health. The important factor is that you are walking at a quick enough pace to get your heart pumping faster.
Again though, how many people have started challenges such as these only to have motivation fizzle out after a few days or weeks and the sedentary lifestyle start to creep back in again?
We clearly know we should be exercising more. We know that exercise can benefit us in many ways – including weight loss, increased muscle tone, improved bone strength and cardio health – yet the statistics demonstrate this knowledge is not enough to encourage many of us to commit to attending the gyms we pay for or persevere long term with the fitness challenges we sign up to.
Despite the increasing wealth of advice and support available online (such as this BITC toolkit) which is helping employers meet their legal responsibility to support the health and well-being of their staff, it is clear that simply creating the opportunity for more movement at work is not enough. A commitment from staff to maintain a more active lifestyle is needed before health benefits can be achieved.
In addition to knowing the benefits of doing exercise, perhaps if we better understood the implications of not doing exercise then motivation would match intent. More than simply providing opportunities to move more, if employers educate staff about the negative health implications of sitting for prolonged periods at work they may be more likely to commit to small changes they can introduce to their working day to combat this.
In house display screen equipment training could be one way to achieve this but many DSE courses still lack adequate focus on the negative health implications of inactivity. Additionally, for smaller companies, buying in a trainer is not always practical or cost effective. To address this gap, echo3education have teamed up with DSE Scotland to develop a new Move More at Work online learning course. With specially-commissioned visuals by graphic artists Blue Monkey Design, Move More at Work is a visually engaging way for employees to develop their understanding of the serious health risks associated with inactivity. With a particular focus on the negative impact of prolonged sitting, the course offers a range of simple ways to introduce more activity and movement in the workplace.
Employers have a legal responsibility to support the health and well-being of their staff as part of their health and safety duties. Online training has long been the go to for many companies when it comes to health and safety compliance but increasingly businesses are harnessing the power of elearning to deliver their wellbeing message. Online learning can help make move more at work training accessible for all and, ideally, it should be a core part of any suite of DSE training to ensure that all staff are ‘happy, healthy, here’.
1 Public Health England
3 Physical Inactivity = doing less than 30 mins moderate physical activity each week.
4 Sedentary Behaviour = sitting or lying down while awake