Brainfood: Crash course in ... Creating a healthy workplace

You're facing an obesity epidemic as people sit around the office without doing any exercise, snacking on junk food. Far from lean and mean, your team look lethargic and stressed, and it's hurting performance. Time for a health crusade.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Why bother? Good question, but the health of your employees and colleagues has a direct effect on the whole organisation. Health and well-being consultancy VieLife says healthy employees can be up to 20% more productive than their unhealthy peers. Also, physical fitness leads to fewer accidents, less sickness absence and higher morale. And you'll find it easier to retain people if you care about their health.

Time for a health-check. Offer everyone a check-up so you can identify individual problems and get an aggregated picture to see where the issues are in the workforce. Self-assessment online is one option. Make it measurable, so you can set a benchmark.

Get physical. Subsidising gym membership, installing a gym or organising fitness sessions are all ways to get the workforce trim. Think enablement, too. 'Instal bike racks, showers and lockers,' says Stephen Shaffelburg of the British Heart Foundation. 'I run three times a week during work hours; I wouldn't if there were no showers.'

Walk the walk. Encourage people to take stairs rather than lifts. You can even design your workplace so that people regularly have to walk between departments. Give them pedometers to see if they're getting their daily 10,000 steps. And try banning internal e-mails for a day, to get people walking to colleagues' desks.

Re-write the menu. If you have an in-house cafeteria, ensure plenty of healthy menu options, though you may want to go further. 'One of our clients introduced fruit in reception and other places in their office,' says Rosalind Robertson of Glasgow-based All Body Group. 'They used to have vending machines with lots of chocolate bars but they've taken them away. The employees have been pleased about it.' Encourage the troops to count their fresh fruit and veg portions and to drink lots of water.

Support nicotine quitters. Under new legislation, smoking will be illegal in enclosed workplaces. Encourage those who want to quit by sponsoring or subsidising cessation programmes.

Buy some pillows. According to VieLife, 40% of us suffer from insomnia, and lack of sleep can reduce productivity by 30%. Says account manager Karen Knighton: 'We have a nap room where you can go to get a rest. A nap can re-energise you.'

Discard the whip. You can encourage your people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but you can't force them. And they're far more likely to get out those jogging pants if you involve them, rather than preach.

Do say: 'Our organisation's health depends on our people's health.'

Don't say: 'Double chips and a deep-fried Mars bar please, luv.'

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