Do you remember as a child always being told to ‘go outside and play’? We’ve all heard it, whether we liked to watch TV, read a book or play games, the outdoors was always a better alternative according to our elders. Though we didn’t realise it at the time, it widened our perspectives, expanded our imaginations, and encouraged us to appreciate all that the world had to offer us. Our time was used more productively and we returned indoors energised and refreshed, ready for our next adventure.
However, as adults we enjoy the outdoors positive embrace less and less. As work environments are increasingly brought inside, we are encouraged to stay indoors, focus on a screen and lead a less active lifestyle. The effect a brisk run, a quick swim or a relaxing walk has on our mind and body has not been forgotten, but it has been set aside as lives get busier and schedules get tighter.
I recently read a blog article entitled 'Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation.' Nilofer Merchant inspired me with her approach to bringing the outdoor life into the office. Her fundamental problem with exercise is one felt by many of us; it takes ‘time away from other “more productive things.”’ Her solution? To make her activity productive, by taking her meetings for a walk. Not a revolutionary idea, but as she now averages ‘20 to 30 miles a week’, the impact this will have on her well-being is clear.
And so it’s the small things that change your work life from stagnant and repetitive to invigorating and productive. Her article definitely sent me on a walk in my lunch time, but it also got me thinking about how a company can energise their workplace and the benefits this can bring.
Etsy bring healthy living into the office through offering employees a 'family-style, locally sourced meal provided by nearby restaurants', a meal they nicknamed ‘Eatsy’. They offer the healthy leftovers from these meals as snacks throughout the week. As eating unhealthily has been linked to a 66% increased risk in loss of productivity, this is sure to help with office motivation! Simple acts like this will also strengthen relationships, encourage community and promote healthier eating.
American Express have just started their annual ‘New Year, New You’ campaign under its healthy living program. Breckon Jones, their director of health and benefits, EMEA said: 'Exercise is a central pillar in our wellbeing programme, although we like to use the phrase ‘move more’ so that it is inclusive of incidental activity as well as structured exercise.' In 2010, American Express won the Leadership Summits 'Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles' award for its revamped wellness program, Healthy Living. Talking about their program, Anita Shaughnessy, their vice president of global benefits, said:
'Our Healthy Living program is an important investment to inspire and drive health and wellness among American Express employees and their families. This program not only improves employee health and engagement, it also enhances business productivity and performance and helps control long-term health costs.'
Their findings are backed by research published in the journal Population Health Management which found that rare exercise risks a 50% increase in low productivity.
Workplaces that have encouraged their employees to become more active have had positive results. One organisation in London found that over a two year period it 'reduced absence through sickness from 6.5% to 3.5%.' Another saw staff turnover 'reduce from 40% to 20%.' Larry S. Chapmam, the founder of the Chapman Institute, an institute for worksite wellness, reviewed forty-two worksite health promotion and wellness programs, covering 370,558 participants, to see what impact these programs have on the workplace. His research concluded that worksite health promotion and wellness programs can:
Whether or not employers should be involved in promoting a healthier workplace is very much up for discussion; however the benefits of a healthier and more active workforce are evident. Encouraging employees by giving them the opportunity to exercise and eat healthily can only aid an organisation and with studies showing that 44% of workers feel that employer support would help them become more active, there is clearly support for its introduction.
By encouraging employees to lead a healthier life employers are not only investing in their employees lives but also in the future of their organisations.