There are many reasons why employers should encourage their workforce to stay physically active and healthy.
On a personal level, people who have good physical fitness and wellbeing are likely to see benefits such as:
- A healthier weight
- Reduced risk of serious health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer
- Better sleep
- Improved mental health
- Reduced risk of joint problems and back pain
From a business perspective, making an effort to help employees stay physically active can lead to advantages including:
- A stronger employer brand, thanks to your commitment to supporting your workforce
- Reduced sickness absence
- Higher productivity
- A happier, more engaged workforce
- Lower staff turnover
The challenge of encouraging your workforce to look after their physical health, even if they have a largely sedentary job, took on a new dimension in 2020, when COVID-19 forced people all over the world to spend more time than usual at home. Many workers who would usually have benefited from simple daily activities like commuting and moving around the workplace found themselves confined to their homes and working remotely.
Therefore, it's arguably more important than ever for employers to take the lead on encouraging people to stay physically active.
Here are some effective ways you can do that:
1. Be flexible
Perhaps the most useful thing you can do to help your staff stay healthy is simply giving them the time to make exercise a regular part of their working day. That becomes easier if you're willing to allow a level of flexibility in how people do their jobs and the hours they keep.
If employees are given the option of flexible start and finish times, it’ll be easier for them to make time for some sort of physical activity at the beginning or end of the day. You could also allow staff to start early and finish late if they want to take a long lunch break to exercise halfway through the day.
2. Create walking or jogging clubs
If people are finding it difficult to motivate themselves to go for a brisk walk or jog as part of their working day, it might help to form a club whose members are willing to support each other and provide words of encouragement when they're most needed.
Many businesses will be pinning their hopes on a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions in 2021, which could make it possible for co-workers to meet up outside to go running, walking or cycling together.
Even if exercising with others isn’t possible in person either because of distancing restrictions or simple geography, there are many fitness sharing and tracking apps that make it easy for users to set joint goals and keep others up to date with their progress.
3. Introduce standing meetings
If your employees spend a lot of time in meetings, why not gauge opinions on introducing standing meetings and launch a trial to see how the idea catches on?
While it might seem like a small change, encouraging workers to spend more time on their feet and less time sitting can make a big difference to people's overall health. It can be beneficial for protecting against musculoskeletal problems like chronic back pain and muscle strains.
Furthermore, people who are standing are likely to feel more alert and engaged in what's happening in meetings, providing a boost in productivity.
4. Inform and educate
It's safe to assume that all employees will already be aware of the benefits of exercise and staying physically healthy. However, you could still have a lot to gain from providing as much information as possible about why this is so important.
Some people might not know just how much their health could be impacted - particularly over the long term - by sustained inactivity for seven or eight hours a day, five days a week, for years on end.
You could also pass on detailed guidance from health authorities regarding how often people should be exercising. For instance, Public Health Canada recommends at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity every week.
5. Create a policy to promote physical activity
You can show you're serious about encouraging exercise and helping your staff stay physically healthy by making a clear commitment to this mission in your company policies.
Taking an organization-wide approach will increase the likelihood that your measures will have the desired effect and the entire workforce will benefit. Employees should be given opportunities to make suggestions and get involved in developing the plans, which should also be backed by senior managers and directors to ensure the proper resources are available.
Physical health and wellbeing need to be a priority for your business and your employees. By taking action at policy level, you can demonstrate that you’re serious about physical wellbeing and that you're dedicated to looking after your workforce.