Posted on: 02 June 2020
Employers have been aware of the importance of physical wellbeing for several years. But never has it seemed more relevant to promote a healthy lifestyle than during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Organisations with staff on the frontlines will already have plans in place to protect them: maintaining social distance, providing personal protective equipment etc. But outside of work hours, how can we encourage a more permanent lifestyle change so that employees stay healthy and resilient in the long-term?
Employers have an important part to play. Not only can they positively affect physical wellbeing by implementing initiatives, they can also support their employees to make healthier choices.
Employer led physical wellbeing programmes have been shown to improve employee health and fitness, reduce absenteeism, increase retention, and improve employee alertness, morale and job satisfaction, all of which contribute to a more productive workforce and a positive corporate image*.
And employees have never been more receptive. For example, we know from Personal Group’s Cycle to Work providers that bike sales are up by a huge percentage. The implication? Employees are trying to improve their fitness and reduce their risk of falling ill.
As UK society starts the slow process towards resuming some form of ‘normal’ life, our response to COVID-19 needs to become preventative rather than just reactive. With a vaccine not yet available, this disease may be with us for some time. Therefore, employers should focus on improving physical health amongst their workforce, to help build resilience in the long-term.
Employers can support this drive for a healthier lifestyle in several ways:
Encourage employees to cycle to work instead of driving
The health benefits of cycling are well understood. Regular cycling can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke**.
Less well know perhaps is the positive effect regular cycling has on mental health - it’s proven that 15% more people who ride a bike every day are satisfied with their lives than people who haven’t biked since becoming an adult.
Healthy competition between staff and departments can be used as a tool to encourage employee participation – for example, through a step challenge or comparing the number of miles cycled per week.
Friendly competition can also encourage staff to set personal fitness goals and provide an incentive to achieve them.
Many organisations have started providing exercise classes that employees can follow along with in their own homes via video conferencing platforms.
Whilst gyms and leisure centres remain closed, employees may find it helpful to have a set time every week to get active in the (virtual) company of friends from work, as well as a chance to try a new activity.
Access to healthy food
Employers who provide food for staff in the workplace may wish to consider whether they can improve their offering.
Whilst is it impossible for employers to police what employees can and cannot eat, and unreasonable for them to want to do so, there are some ways in which they can positively impact the eating choices of their employees. These steps can be as simple as offering healthy options for purchase in the tuck shop or canteen or including information on how to eat better as part of their overall wellbeing offering.
Physical health initiatives are a great way to demonstrate your commitment to your employees, however, are only part of the bigger picture. Having a well-rounded wellbeing programme not only looks at how and what businesses can do to encourage a healthier lifestyle for their staff, it focuses on all elements of wellbeing including financial, mental and social. A holistic wellbeing approach will not only benefit your staff, but your business as well.
To read more about the benefits of physial wellbeing programme click here
* Bevan, S. (2010). The Business Case for Employee Health and Wellbeing. [online] The Work Foundation. Available at: http://www.mtpinnacle.com/pdfs/TheBusinessCaseforEmployeeHealthandWell-Being.pdf [Accessed 28 Jan 2019]. And Conrad, P. (1988). Worksite health promotion: The social context. Social Science & Medicine, 26(5), pp.485-489