In week 5 of his 15 week blog Carl discusses the third of Barnett Waddingham’s 6 pillars of employee wellbeing; health.
Of all of our 6 pillars of employee wellbeing, health is the one that most people associate with wellbeing. It is certainly the one that can have the most impact on someone’s life, yet importantly it’s the one that we have most control over and we can positively impact relatively quickly.
You will have seen from week 2 of this blog series that in our wellbeing survey I scored 4 out of 10 in health, my lowest score across all of our 6 pillars. The salient points are these: I’m 31, I smoke and have done for 12 years, I would be classed as obese on the BMI scale (don’t get me started on BMI), and I probably drink more beer than I should. Based upon these facts my health score is low, yet I don’t feel that my health is as bad as the reading makes out. I walk over an hour every day and periodically I will go for a run where I can maintain a decent pace for a few miles. What I believe truly affects my health (aside from my horrendous smoking habit) is the sedentary lifestyle of an office worker.
I would put a large wager on the scores of manual workers in health far outweighing those of their office-based equivalents. The fact is that in a manual job you move more. My wife is a great example of this: she used to work as a waitress, running up and down stairs all day, and carrying heavy boxes of alcohol on delivery day. She was incredibly fit for someone who freely admits she is “allergic to the gym”. Once she gave up that job and moved to a job where she was sitting down all day she lost her fitness and strength and she found she had to more closely watch what she ate (I would like to stress that those were her words and not mine, I wouldn’t dare!).
The same is true of astronauts on the international space station: without gravity and the constant use of their muscles those muscles start to deteriorate, and therefore astronauts have a strict exercise regime to ensure that they maintain enough of their muscle mass to keep them alive and to cope with the effects of gravity when they do eventually return to earth.
In terms of the office worker, the solution many take is to go to the gym three or four times a week and to pay closer attention to what they eat - however a lot of people struggle with finding the time to fit exercise into their busy schedules. You will have learned from last week’s blog that I am father to a 5 month old, Stanley. When I finish work I want to get home so I can see him and also to relieve my wife of baby duty. By the time we have put him to bed and had our own dinner its getting on towards 8:30pm. Who really wants to go out and exercise at 8:30pm with freshly devoured spaghetti bolognese rattling around in their stomach?
Aside from exercise, nutrition is really important. I know this and I am pretty good at knowing what is good for me and what is not but I am certainly not a nutritionist - and with all of the tricks that supermarkets play with ‘low fat’ and ‘reduced fat’ products I can see how people get confused. I try to cook from fresh where possible but again a lot of that comes down to timing: apparently eating a jarred sauce is worse for you than freshly prepared sauces - yet apparently you shouldn’t eat after 8pm or it can have an effect on your digestion and retention of food as fat stores. Which is the lesser of the two evils?
I know there will be people reading this who work in an office, who make time for the gym, have 4 children all under 5 and yet maintain the body they had in their early 20’s; however for the majority of people that isn’t the reality. One look at the stats around obesity in the UK will tell you all you need to know.
So what role does the employer have? Firstly let's explain that it is extremely beneficial for the employer to have healthier employees: it reduces absence rates, increases productivity and reduces insurance premiums, but how do they help?
It is becoming increasingly common for companies to invest more in the health of their employees and we now often see discounted gym memberships, health assessments and fruit in the office. All of this is positive and to be encouraged but does it only benefit those that are healthy and active in the first place? If you don’t like fruit, free fruit will not entice you and discounted gym memberships will not encourage those who are “allergic to the gym”.
I believe that engagement plays a pivotal role in shaping a health strategy that benefits all. Once an employer understands their workforce and its health risks and employee concerns, then a truly bespoke strategy can be built that supports those who continue to lead a healthy lifestyle while also encouraging those who do not – for example by providing education in areas such as nutrition and exercise or health assessments which are a great way of helping employees identify their own unique health risks.
Coming back around to the sedentary lifestyle conundrum, I think the workplace will evolve drastically over the next decade. We already see that remote working is becoming increasingly common and surely that loss in commuting time along with more freedom frees up a lot of time to exercise or cook up something healthy. Equally within the office itself, standing desks are the hot craze right now and anything that can help make office workers move more is to be encouraged (although I personally draw the line at walking on a treadmill while typing an email).
Next time I speak about health I will have tried to have put some of these theories into practice and I will report back on my findings. Hopefully I will have lost a few pounds at the very least.
Next week’s pillar will be support.