Employers should help boost staff physical activity

Author: Adrian O'Dowd
Employers should help boost staff physical activity

Employers should be encouraging their staff to be more physically active to try and tackle growing rates of obesity, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

NICE has today published a quality standard on encouraging physical activity in the community stressing that a fit and energised workforce is less likely to be off sick and more satisfied in their jobs.

It advises employers to highlight a lunchtime yoga or spin class at a local gym, offer subsidised gym memberships and encourage the use of stairs instead of using the lift as examples of prompts for staff to get fitter.

Organisations are also urged to provide information about safe active travel routes to work, as well as producing physical activity programmes for the workplace to encourage employees to be more active and reduce sedentary behaviour.

The quality standard is aimed at healthcare commissioners, service providers, health and public health practitioners, employers, schools, voluntary and community sector and the public.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that more than 131 million working days were lost to sickness in 2017, including 13 million working days lost to stress, depression or anxiety.

NICE says that being more active in everyday life is important for the physical and mental health of people of all ages and abilities, while also potentially helping to reduce staff absenteeism levels, increase staff satisfaction and improve the workplace environment.

The standard says healthcare commissioning groups and local authorities should aim to increase physical activity through strategic planning and delivery action plans.

In healthcare commissioning groups, physical activity champions will ensure that physical activity is embedded across all clinical pathways.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: “If the UK’s 5.7 million small and medium sized businesses encouraged their workforce to be more active, they are more likely to reap the benefits of having engaged employees who are more productive and are less likely to take time off sick.

“Simple things like providing secure bicycle storage, showers and changing facilities can go a long way to enabling people to cycle to work or to meetings.

“As a society we are facing an obesity crisis caused in part by people not exercising enough. We need people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise. If they can do this during the working day, not only will they benefit, but so too will their employers and the NHS. It’s a win, win for everyone.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners welcomed the document, saying: “Exercise can have a hugely positive impact on our physical and mental health, so making it easier for people to be more active as part of their daily routine – both at work and in their leisure time - is key to helping patients live a long and healthy life.

“This new quality standard from NICE offers useful advice for professionals and commissioners across society – and for employers, it includes pragmatic suggestions that can be tailored to workplaces of different sizes and with varying resources available.

“Physical activity and lifestyle is a clinical priority for the RCGP and we have developed resources to support GPs and other healthcare professionals to encourage their patients to live healthier lifestyles.”