Eight cost-effective ways to tackle obesity

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.

6/ CSR

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.

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HR Managers lack confidence in government Fit for Work scheme (30/03/2015)

Less than a quarter of UK HR managers believe the government’s Fit for Work absence and assessment service will fulfil their occupational health (OH) requirements, research has revealed.

The scheme, which is being launched in stages throughout 2015, aims to provide advice and support to employers dealing with employees suffering from long-term sickness absence.

But a study conducted by PMI Health Group discovered that while 70 per cent of HR professionals are now aware of the scheme, only 23 per cent believe it will fulfil their OH requirements. Furthermore, only 14 per cent feel that enough information has been provided about how employers can make use of it.

“It’s encouraging to see the government taking the issue of workplace absence seriously, but having to wait four weeks to gain access to such support is less useful for employers,” said Mike Blake, Director, PMI Health Group.

“It’s also surprising that four months after the official launch of the scheme, nearly a third (30 per cent) of HR professionals still don’t even know about it.”

The survey revealed that more than half (57 per cent) of HR managers are intending to make use of the Fit for Work service, which provides advice to employers when staff have been absent for more than four weeks.  But it also showed that 84 per cent of employers already provide staff with access to an occupational health service (either all the time or in certain cases) when they have been off sick for four weeks or more.

Employers’ propensity to offer OH support reduces in shorter-term absences, but 57 per cent of employers still provide staff with access to an occupational health service in all or certain cases where employees have been absent for less than four weeks.

“Information from an employee’s GP can be useful but having access to an occupational physician gives employers a much deeper understanding of the underlying factors involved in an absence,” added Mike.

“Line managers and HRs need to be looking at monitoring the ongoing health of their staff and being proactive about intervening earlier to reduce absence in the first place.”

Almost a third of employees call on businesses to tackle obesity (25/03/2015)

UK business is coming under increasing pressure to tackle obesity after a new study found 31 per cent of employees believe their employers should help them lose weight.

The nationwide study, conducted on behalf of PMI Health Group, found the call was loudest in Scotland, where 41 per cent want their employers to take action, and London (38 per cent).

Furthermore, 34 per cent of respondents also claim companies have a moral responsibility to help them lead a fit and healthy lifestyle.

These results follow on from a December ruling by the European Court of Justice that severe obesity can constitute a disability and calls from the head of the NHS to financially reward employers who introduce weight-loss schemes.

“Obesity is a rapidly growing problem in the UK – one that is estimated to cost the economy £47 billion a year,” said PMI Health Group Director Mike Blake.

“Consequently, employers are coming under pressure to share the responsibility for tackling the problem by helping staff to lead healthier lifestyles. But, aside from the obvious benefit to employees, a proactive approach is also good for the long-term health of the business, helping to tackle sickness absence before it becomes an issue.

“The cost of diabetes to the NHS, for example, is expected to rise from £9.8 billion to £16.9 billion over the next 25 years. Initiatives such as cycle-to-work schemes, fitness classes, nutritional advice and weight-loss programmes can be relatively cheap to implement but provide clear economic benefit by reducing the risk of serious conditions developing.”

The study also revealed 35 per cent of employees believe businesses should run specific schemes that incentivise staff to lose weight.

Men are particularly keen on such schemes, with 38 per cent of them calling for their introduction, compared to 31 per cent of women. Once more, there were also strong calls in London (45 per cent) and Scotland (37 per cent).

The research was conducted online by global research consultancy TNS Omnibus among 582 adults, aged 16-64, who are currently in full or part-time employment in Great Britain. The interviewed sample was weighted to represent the adult population of Great Britain. 

Staff ranked benefits from a finite list, including all UK major benefits currently offered to staff (contributory pension schemes, health insurance, company car schemes, life insurance, income protection insurance, health screenings, critical illness cover, counselling or EAPs, childcare vouchers and cash plans).

Health insurance, life cover and childcare vouchers gain favour among UK workers (04/03/2015)

PMI Health Group’s 2015 Employee Benefits Index(1) has seen health insurance, life cover and childcare vouchers all increase in value among UK workers – with contributory pension schemes declining in popularity.

Childcare vouchers saw the biggest rise in popularity with 11 per cent of staff ranking them as their most valued benefit, up from eight per cent in 2014 and just six per cent in 2013.

Twelve per cent valued PMI highest, up from 11 per cent in 2014, with thirteen per cent ranking life insurance top, up from 12 per cent last year.

“Although a new government Tax-Free Childcare (TFC) scheme is being introduced in October, there’s clearly been growing appreciation of the role childcare vouchers can play in helping working parents,” said PMI Health Group Director Mike Blake.

“The rise in popularity of health insurance may reflect the intense media scrutiny of NHS waiting lists and increasing restrictions on treatments. Life insurance has always been a valued benefit but auto-enrolment may have led to greater awareness, with more employees entering into schemes as part of their pension provision.”

Although contributory pension schemes remained the most popular benefit, only 28 per cent of employees ranked them top, compared with 31 per cent in 2014.

“With pension provision becoming a mandatory entitlement through auto-enrolment, the status of schemes as an employee benefit may be declining,” Mike added.

Counselling and EAP benefits meanwhile have doubled in importance in the last 12 months, from two to four per cent, as traditional stigmas about mental health begin to fade. Research by PMI Health Group earlier this year revealed that more than half of companies now regularly engage with staff to gain an insight into their mental wellbeing.

(1) The research was conducted online by global research consultancy TNS Omnibus among 582 adults, aged 16-64, who are currently in full or part-time employment in Great Britain. The interviewed sample was weighted to represent the adult population of Great Britain.

Staff ranked benefits from a finite list, including all UK major benefits currently offered to staff (contributory pension schemes, health insurance, company car schemes, life insurance, income protection insurance, health screenings, critical illness cover, counselling or EAPs, childcare vouchers and cash plans).