Fit to work

Published: 20 Mar 2015

Companies should help their desk-based staff with discounted gym memberships and cycling schemes to keep them fit. That’s the opinion of both health professionals and some company managers who see their staff sitting at their desks for up to nine hours every day, moving only for tea and toilet breaks.

The health risks to desk-bound staff are becoming a health and safety issue, where even sitting doing nothing can be dangerous, the Protecting.co.uk business law consultancy says.

“People who don’t move from their desks all day might not know the risks their letting themselves in for,” said Protecting.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall.

“A sedentary lifestyle can lead to all sorts of problems, not least through lack of fitness and the perils of deep vein thrombosis through long periods of inactivity.”

Working out after work

According to one doctor with years of experience in occupational health, an unhealthy lifestyle outside work, along with hours of relative inactivity at work could result in long-term health problems for staff, as well as sick leave headaches for businesses and organisation.

“Desk-bound staff sometimes need to be encouraged to leave their work stations,” she said.

“A culture of working through lunch breaks mean that tens of thousands of office workers never get further than the staff toilets during their working day.”

That’s a philosophy that’s been grasped by Alan Smith, a regional office manager at a leading banking business.

“I insist that staff at least go for a walk during their lunch break. It’s not an office rule, but I will virtually turf out anybody who starts making a habit of staying at their desks all day.”

Smith says that his unofficial policy means happier, more alert staff in the afternoon, as well as reducing sick leave thanks to workers being more active and healthy.

“I also encourage people to join a gym, and we’re very forgiving if they’re more than an hour away from their desks because they’re working out,” Smith says. “We’re also looking into ways of getting a hefty staff discount, we see it as our responsibility to help our people, even if it costs us.”

In fact, Protecting.co.uk reports that at least one large UK-based corporation that has installed good quality gym on its Berkshire premises for an investment of a few thousand pounds, and charges staff £40 to use it. That’s not per month – it’s per year.

If companies are serious about helping desk staff get healthy they should consider:
• Encouraging workers who drive to park away from work and walk the rest of the way
• Lunch-break activities such as yoga and pilates
• Join a cycle-to-work scheme, where staff are offered bikes tax-free and paid in instalments
• Negotiate discounts for gym memberships

Typical is ‘Annette’ who works for a law firm, who says she put on a stone a year after taking an office job: “It made me unhappy, not least because of all the fast food places yards from our office – there’s nothing else to do round here.”

Six months after taking advantage of a work-sponsored cycle-to-work discount scheme, she says the weight is falling off and she’s more confident in her job than she has been for years.

“OK, I’m a fair-weather cyclist, and I bring the car when it rains, but I’m all the healthier for it.”

Protecting.co.uk’s Mark Hall says companies that pay for healthy activities for their staff should see it as a long-term investment rather than an immediate cost.

“In the medium to long term, you’re going to see fitter and happier office staff. Not only that, they’ll be motivated into coming to work, with the financial bonus of lower sick pay costs. Think of it as an extension of your existing Health and Safety policy.”

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