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Healthy Employees

Despite the pleasant advent of Princess Charlotte this weekend, like many other business owners I was only momentarily distracted and am far more concerned about the possible outcome of the election this week. It’s more than a bit worrying. After Labour’s Ed Balls (amongst other things) publicly sacked Haringey’s Sharon Shoesmith costing the tax payer almost £700,000 in compensation I always felt that he shouldn’t be in charge of pocket money, never mind the economy. Things are hard enough now. I dread to think what will happen if Mr Milliband gets in and does decide to follow Francois Hollande’s lead and put up public sector pay. Presumably we’ll get what’s happened in France – greater unemployment and a plunging economy. If you want to put pay up pay and sort out the NHS, you have to have a good economy because that’s what pays for it all … If we get lots of Labour spending now will be back to yet more austerity to pay for it all in another five years? My blood pressure shoots up when I try to decipher some of the economic polices currently being propounded.

Fortunately for me, my blood pressure is extremely stable most of the time and a long walk and picnic with the Old Man and grand dog over the bank holiday helps to keep me in good health. But a recent survey to find Britain’s Healthiest Company (BHC) disclosed some concerns for UK businesses. In a study of employee wellbeing of more than 23,000 employees across 82 companies, 87 per cent of British workers were found to have a "health age" older than their chronological age – with the average worker's "health age" three years and ten months higher. The figures are mainly caused by unhealthy lifestyles, according to an initiative from medical insurer VitalityHealth.

The study looked at blood pressure, nutrition, alcohol intake, mental illness and body mass index. By region, the least healthy was the North East with 31 per cent of employees at risk of developing a health problem. London came out on top with 24 per cent. The concept of a “work age” takes everything from exercise and diet to blood pressure and depression into account.

It is estimated that 63 per cent of deaths are caused by ‘diseases of lifestyles’ such as heart attacks, diabetes and respiratory diseases. Many people are aware that they need to improve their health but lack clarity as to what’s needed and/ or lack motivation to achieve it. In Britain, 62 per cent of adult are either overweight or obese, a figure which has tripled since 1980. A modern way of living is partly to blame with more people having cars, high calorie fast foods and the ability to communicate without having to go out and see someone.

A loss of productivity cost the UK economy £58 billion in 2014 so employers know the impact of poor health on their business. The importance of remaining active, healthy and balanced within the workplace, not only attracts new talent, but also nurtures staff while they work there.

You can encourage employees to improve their health. In our office everyone has to take a proper lunch break away from the main office. Although employees can have lunch upstairs everyone is encouraged to go out of the office and get some fresh air. We do not eat at our desks; not only does it provide a breeding ground for germs but it is also not good to graze all day. People who do graze tend to pick unhealthy options such as fried snacks or sweets rather than fruit or carrot sticks.

There are a number of ways you can promote healthy living in the workplace. When I designed our office I ensured we had a shower added so if anyone wants to cycle or run to work (I’ve done both in my time and not having a shower before you start the working day is horrible) they have can clean up before coming into the office.

Some things are simple such as ensuring that your employees know how to sit correctly at a workstation or how to safely lift things, both of which can be the cause of back problems. You could also look for specific contacts to help your employees. For example an employee who wants to give up smoking or someone with mental health issues may benefit from joining a support group or speaking to someone about therapy. You could put some money towards a benefit as part of an employee’s package, for example a gym membership or contribution towards fitness classes. If you have a canteen in the workplace ensure there are healthy options available to employees. You can also encourage team activities – running, cycling etc. It’s not only healthy it builds the team spirit.

There are so many benefits to having healthy employees. By improving an employee’s health absence rates are reduced and employee engagement is improved. Healthy employees cost you less money. Older workers are well supported. Your productivity will be boosted. Your employees feel valued and in consequence the workplace operates more effectively.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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