Reducing sickness absence across a workforce is a challenge that has been puzzling businesses for many years.
Yet the solution is simple; fit, healthy and happy employees are more productive and less likely to call in sick than those who are not.
More of us are taking on “sedentary jobs”, which naturally means we’re finding it harder to stay active. While the more dedicated among us will unearth ways to stay fit and healthy despite having an inactive job (you can get a few tips from this post), others find it more difficult.
Should corporate gym memberships be compulsory for some companies?
Although it really is down to us as individuals to keep ourselves in shape, there’s an argument that employers need to be doing more to ensure their staff are proactively leading a healthy lifestyle.
To emphasise this point, Fitness First Clubs conducted a poll, asking: “Should employers who require their staff to undertake sedentary jobs be obliged to provide employee health & fitness perks (such as discounted or free gym memberships)?”
The results showed that more than half of Britons who took part in the survey (56%) felt that organisations should be more accountable for keeping their staff fit.
Is there a business case for subsidised gym memberships and other health perks?
Promoting a healthy way of living will likely provide financial benefits in the longer term. There are many statistics to support this statement.
A report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) in 2015 showed that the median annual absence cost per employee stands at £554.
This doesn’t seem too bad on the face of it, but when you look at the situation on a collective basis, it is far more alarming. Indeed, research by XpertHR towards the end of last year showed that sickness absence costs employers an average of losing 6.5 days of working time due to illness per annum.
A previous report by the Trades Union Congress showed that around 170 million working days are lost across the board each year due to employee ill health.
Healthier staff are more productive
Of course, not all staff absences can be attributed to a lack of exercise and a bad diet. That being said, it’s worth noting that companies with a sound wellness policy not only benefit from lower absence rates, their staff are generally more productive too.
As this article from The Telegraph suggests, the organisations that performed the best in the 2015 Britain’s Healthiest Companies Awards had a 24% lower cost of lost productivity than those that hadn’t fared so well.
Elsewhere, commenting on a recent study about sickness absence by EEF - The Manufacturers’ Organisation, Iain Laws, Managing Director of UK Healthcare & Group Risk at Jelf, said:
“Healthy employees can be up to three times as productive as those in poor health. They experience fewer motivational problems are more resilient to change and are more likely to be engaged with the business priorities. It is essential that companies have systems in place which recognise this and which place employee health provision at their heart.”
We think this sums things up quite nicely!
How to build a healthy workforce - Case studies
All of this sounds great, but how do you put the theory into practice?
You should take inspiration from other businesses; those that have demonstrated that they take the wellbeing of their valued employees very seriously. Here are a few examples of organisations that have reaped the rewards of introducing more robust health and fitness perks.
1) Corporate gym memberships = team bonding!
The Stag Company started to offer a membership scheme for a local gym - a perk that 20% of the office signed up for.
Rob Hill, the company’s CEO, told us that such initiatives have helped to reduce staff turnover and have made the company a more attractive proposition for potential new hires.
“I strongly believe having a healthy lifestyle has a knock-on effect on your general happiness and your motivation at work. Minor differences to our diet and lifestyle can have a huge effect, which is why it is critical for companies to introduce these schemes,” he remarked.
“It has also enticed several members to get involved in charity runs and marathons, including Tough Mudder. This can help to increase team building between employees, while also helping to integrate members from different departments closer together.”
2) Introducing “stand-up work zones”
Many of us spend the bulk of the day sitting down, which not only limits the amount of physical activity we partake in, but it can also lead to musculoskeletal injuries - one of the biggest causes of workplace absence in the UK.
The Economic Times recently reported that top consultancy firm EY is attempting to get around this problem by introducing “standing work zones”.
National Director of HR, Sandeep Kohli, told the publication that employees should change their body posture every 45 minutes, and staff at EY are encouraged to hold meetings standing up.
3) Kickboxing classes lead to a 15% upturn in productivity
You can understand why some business owners might be wary of encouraging their staff to take up kickboxing en masse.
However, Michelle Henry of HNS Signs told us that since the company started offering free kickboxing training sessions seven months ago, there has been a noticeable decrease in absence rates.
Not only that, productivity has spiked at the same time.
“HNS Signs paid for the training and our team members got to finish work one hour early on those days if they trained,” Michelle remarked.
“After only a few weeks I noticed a massive difference in my employees. They were more focused, yawned a lot less and were now eating better. They also started working better as a team. Production increased by 15% even though they were each doing two hours less at work a week.”
That last revelation speaks volumes for how beneficial workplace exercise schemes can be for employers and employees alike.
4) Flexible working hours can make all the difference
Earlier this year, the Chartered Management Institute and Work Psychology Group revealed that the UK’s “long-hours culture” has become so pronounced that managers are now working 29 extra days a year. Not surprisingly, stress levels are through the roof.
The number of working days lost specifically to stress has risen by 24% since 2009, according to The Work Foundation. It’s a massive problem - one that can be lessened by regular exercise, which is known to help alleviate stress.
Unfortunately, because we’re so busy we’re finding it hard to squeeze regular workouts into our schedules. It’s the most vicious of circles.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Elodie Graham, PR Manager for sportswear company Sweaty Betty - which is renowned for being one of the UK’s healthiest companies - said that the key is to make sure employees have enough time to keep fit. Flexible working hours are therefore essential.
“We encourage staff to take the time to exercise, so we’re fine with people leaving early to attend their spin class. We also often see lunch breaks turn into group runs or yoga sessions,” she was quoted as saying.