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Fit for Work

Cycle to work

Cycling is an affordable, healthy and green way to travel to work and increase fitness levels.

Guest blog by Amanda Fitton

Improving health is often seen to be a personal responsibility, yet it’s a topic that a growing number of forward-thinking organisations recognise may yield a variety of mutual benefits for both an employer and its workforce.

The relationship between health and work is close; poorer health may lead to increased employee absence and decreased performance. The Office for National Statistics’ 2013 survey found that 131 million working days were lost to sickness absence, with undoubted economic impact upon British businesses large and small. For smaller organisations in particular, the absence of a single employee may have a significant and detrimental effect. With the dramatic rise in lifestyle-related illnesses, such as heart disease and Diabetes, a proactive approach to supporting the health of a business’ greatest asset may be fundamental in achieving current and future business objectives.

But how can this challenge be tackled by employers? Increasing employees’ physical activity levels is widely recognised as an important component in improving both physical and mental health. A surprisingly small amount of activity can help to achieve this – gradually building up to just 150 minutes of moderate activity per week offers significant health benefits. A strong body of research evidence highlights the association between creating a culture of staff wellness, encouraging increased physical activity and improved outcomes for companies including:-
– decreased sickness absence
– improved performance/productivity
– increased engagement and commitment
– improved staff morale
– improved staff retention rates

In addition to these clear internal benefits, adopting workplace health initiatives may offer valuable, wider-reaching effects for the organisation; workplace health programmes are increasingly seen as a core component of an appealing employee benefits and remuneration package, which may offer an effective recruitment and retention tool. Further-more, they may play a crucial role in enhancing the company’s public perception as a high quality and caring
employer through its demonstrable commitment to employee health. This enhancement can be particularly powerful when driven and supported by staff themselves. Employees, too, can enjoy the tangible benefits of becoming more physically active. Greater activity levels promote improved sleep, provide increased energy to cope better with
the demands of working and home lives and an improved ability to manage stress. The knowledge that their health is valued by their employer may also lead to greater job satisfaction.

With the advent of a growing industry in corporate wellness programmes, it is possible to outsource health improve-ment and the development of bespoke wellbeing initiatives, which may form part of a renewed, flexible company benefits scheme – an attractive option allowing staff to select a number of the most alluring elements, thus creating an individually tailored benefits package. Whilst the associated costs may be prohibitive for smaller organisations,
physical activity and wellbeing initiatives can be devised successfully through internal methods with HR teams or managers working in partnership with staff.

A wealth of excellent quality advice and resources to support internal efforts is now available for free online from many organisations including the NHS and British Heart Foundation. When developing health initiatives, a creative approach which involves your team may offer the greatest results as no “one size fits all” approach to success exists – the most effective wellbeing programmes are those which are enjoyable, meet the diverse needs of the individual workforce and encourage employee ownership. It’s important, too, to encourage participation at many levels to be fully inclusive and cater for the abilities of each team member.

Popular examples requiring limited outlay include Green transport projects such as walking and cycling to work, pedometer challenges and lunchtime walking groups. Initiatives that encourage fun, teamwork and community engagement – perhaps with staff raising funds for local charities through participation in active challenges – offer additional motivation and develop team spirit whilst raising the company’s profile within the community. The forthcoming Sport Relief weekend (18-20 March) is a great place to kick start an active participatory workplace initiative with the emphasis firmly on fun. Oswestry’s very own TNS FC has organised a great event – The Oswestry Mile – that exemplifies its efforts to engage with the local community.

It is these social aspects, building camaraderie and offering peer support, which can be key in maintaining healthy behaviour change. It also offers an opportunity to bring your team’s unique skills, interests and talents to the fore – there may be a tae-kwon-do instructor or a Zumba teacher within your ranks!

The mutual benefits of supporting your staff in improving their health and wellbeing through becoming more physically active are clear and proven. This support can form an effective element of a comprehensive employee engagement strategy, resulting in a workforce motivated to give of its best and to achieve organisational goals. Good employee engagement strategies aren’t about getting the “most” from employees – rather, it’s ensuring they get the best from colleagues.

Amanda Fitton, BSc (Hons) and MCSP is a Senior Physiotherapist with special interests in persistent pain management and the promotion of physical activity. 

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