Good health starts with education. According to the Office of National Statistics, nearly one in four adults are now obese. But the latest CIPD Absence Management Survey reports only 31 per cent of employees as receiving advice from their employers on healthy eating initiatives.
What do HR professionals need to encourage a healthier lifestyle across their workforce? PMI Health Group outlines eight key cost-effective steps to tackling the obesity epidemic.
1/ Health checks
Health checks offer the perfect starting point in allowing you and your employees to determine the extent of any problem.
On-site health screenings, for example, can provide a wealth of useful information on things such as blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat. If conducted on an annual basis, these tests can act as a non-taxable benefit.
As a cheaper option, online health risk assessments can also provide employees with the means to create personalised profiles by logging details such as height, weight, and diet.
Both are helpful in signposting potential health risks, bringing the issue of wellbeing into sharper focus and allowing action to be taken to halt any worrying trends.
2/ Fitness classes
This is perhaps one of the more obvious methods for tackling obesity, yet still little used in the UK. The latest Employee Benefits Index produced by PMI Health Group found only 13 per cent of UK employees are given access to such classes.
Activities such as yoga or aerobics might be offered during lunchtime or before and after work to encourage employees to take the first step in leading a healthy lifestyle. It might even be possible to host classes on premises where space allows.
A number of forward-thing organisations, including the likes of Google, have reaped the benefits from running fitness classes – not only in terms of health improvements but also greater levels of staff retention.
3/ Encourage physical activity
Where fitness classes are not possible, employers can still take steps to encourage physical activity throughout the working day.
Provisions might be made to ensure employees are able to take their full lunch hour, allowing them to take a walk during their break rather than simply eating lunch at their desk.
Taking this a step further, employees could be provided with pedometers to measure their physical activity and show them whether they are meeting the recommended 10,000 steps each day. This could even be turned into a challenge, where teams are asked to compete against one another, and even a charity fundraising element attached.
4/ Discounted gym membership
In an ideal situation, staff would be given access to an on-site gym but, often, this simply isn’t possible. Instead, discounted gym membership represents a more cost-effective alternative
Many private medical insurance schemes already include discounted gym membership or, alternatively, it might be possible to negotiate discounted rates for employees with a local gym as part of a referral scheme.
It is worth bearing in mind that gym membership that is paid-for by the employer is subject to tax and national insurance unless that employer has an onsite gym exclusively for employee use.
5/ Cycle-to-work scheme
The UK’s boom in the popularity of cycling can be harnessed to help staff lead healthier lives by encouraging them to ditch the car in favour of an alternative form of transport.
Cycle-to-work schemes allow employees to buy a bike tax-free, splitting the cost over a series of instalments taken out of their monthly paycheck and allowing them to save at least 25 per cent on the total cost.
Employers, meanwhile, benefit from reductions in their National Insurance contributions.
To make cycling even more attractive, companies might also consider providing showers for employees and secure parking spaces for bikes.
Corporate social responsibility is a growing concern for modern businesses, with many keen to demonstrate a commitment to ethical values.
Aside from the obvious benefits to company reputation, CSR can also be used as a means to stimulate physical activity.
Staff could be set fundraising targets at the beginning of each year and encouraged to work together on a series of exercise-based events, including fun runs, cycling events, sponsored walks or even adrenaline-pumping tasks like Tough Mudder.
Again, teams might be pitted against one another to add a degree of healthy competition, helping to positively affect staff morale at the same time as their wellbeing.
7/ Weight-loss schemes
Such schemes appear to be growing in popularity, particularly after the NHS introduced voluntary work-based weight watching and health schemes for its staff.
The latest PMI Health Group Employee Benefits Index found more than a third of people in the UK believe their employer should incentivise staff to join weight-loss schemes.
These schemes can be organised in cooperation with weight-watching groups, removing the administrative burden, as company-wide initiatives, or on a voluntary-basis, with incentives offered to employees who take up the challenge.
Marks & Spencer saw 1,088 of its staff take part in a weight loss challenge, helping to reduce sickness absence by seven per cent.
8/ Nutritional guidance
Diet plays a large part in causing obesity, so it is important to tackle this too, rather than simply focusing on exercise.
There are simple steps that can be taken to address diet, from improving the food available in staff canteens and vending machines to offering free healthy snacks, such as fruit, vegetables and nuts.
Staff may even be offered access to a nutritionist in order to help them identify any parts of their diet that are unhealthy and to find healthier alternatives. This can be supported by distributing regular email bulletins with healthy-eating advice and recipes for staff.