Nazia Ahmed, Director of Human Resources for serviced office provider Business Environment looks at how our working life is contributing to the UK’s obesity crisis
It has been estimated that UK office workers spend five years of their life sat behind a desk, with workers spending 55 per cent of their working day inactive.
According to the research by Sanlam Private Investments, an office worker spends on average almost five hours a day, 24 hours a week and around 45 days per year, sat on their backsides – and people wonder how we Brits have come to be the fattest nation in Europe!
With the obesity crisis making headlines, the question begs whether this is an employer’s issue, or if this is something that should be left down to the worker to fix themselves? If you ask me, it’s a combination of the two.
When you are at work, your health and safety is, in part, your employer’s responsibility. In traditional terms, this usually refers to ensuring employees aren’t on the verge of burnout, about to pass out from an underlying illness, or in danger from the environment they are working in. But surely this should extend to the long term health-effects of being in the office for eight hours a day too.
So what can be done?
Exercise allowances are a great place to start. Many companies now offer gym memberships to their employees and actively encourage them to utilise these in their lunch hours, before or after work. Gym memberships are often costly which is why not everyone has one, but if work is paying, then there’s no excuse. Exercise is also a great stress reliever so ultimately it is killing two birds with one stone – the waistline and stress levels.
Many companies, especially in London, are now also offering a cycle to work scheme. This allows employees to purchase a bike, on the company, and slowly pay it off at a rate they can afford, through monthly deductions from their wages. Not only is this great as it saves huge amounts in travel costs, but it also makes the essential daily commute part of the exercise regime, meaning it’s difficult to avoid. And this leads me on to my next point; showers.
One excuse office workers often have for avoiding exercise during the working day is a lack of shower facilities. They don’t want to cycle in as they don’t want to start the day sweaty, they don’t want to go out for a run at lunch as they’ll come back sweaty – well, I’m pleased to say that this excuse is on its way out as so many offices are now incorporating shower facilities into their units.
I have also noticed more and more companies hosting health days. This is a day where specialists are invited in to speak about health issues, check employee’s blood pressures and offer basic wellbeing advice. This is a brilliant way of promoting health in the work place, as well as lowering sickness-based absenteeism.
As you can see, there are numerous actions employers can take to ensure their staff are keeping active and healthy, but not all of these have to be costly. Simply allowing employees to get up and go for a five minute stroll at interim periods can make a significant difference.
It is also important to remember that this isn’t just down to employers; it’s also the responsibility of the individuals themselves. Having schemes in place that encourages physical activity is all well and good, but it cannot be forced. An individual must want to take advantage of these opportunities and make a difference to their own health and lifestyle, it’s very much a two way street.