Did you know that in Wales around 7.7 million days of work are lost to sickness absence every year, the equivalent of 5.2 days per worker?
This staggering figure, which undoubtedly is a significant cost to Welsh businesses, is one that could be addressed by more employers proactively taking action to support employees’ health and wellbeing, particularly given that many of the causes of long-term sickness absences are preventable.
The workplace offers many opportunities for promoting healthy lifestyles and supporting employees to make behaviour changes such as moving more and eating more healthily.
Here, former Welsh rugby player and businessman Aled Brew, a Director at medical device company Zimmer Biomet and ambassador for Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales, the Welsh Government strategy for preventing and reducing obesity, gives his thoughts on what more employers could be doing to support their employees to live healthier lives.
“Given the fact we spend 60% of our waking lives in work, it is fair to say that work has a significant impact on our health and wellbeing, both positively and negatively.
“Our settings where we learn, work and live should be positive environments; which create a supportive cultural norm where being healthy and active is what everyone does; encouraging or providing healthier food choices and encouraging regular physical activity.
“When you spend the majority of your time in work, it’s essential to have a healthy environment and with the COVID19 pandemic impacting the modern workplace with many staff continuing to work from home, your working environment can encompass a broad range of settings.
“There are strong social and economic reasons for businesses in the private, public and third sectors to support workplace health. Studies have shown that healthy work environments can increase productivity and job satisfaction, lower levels of stress and reduce sickness absence.
“Research tells us that for every £1 spent on promoting health at work between £2 and £34 can be saved through reduced sickness absence and staff turnover, as well as increased productivity, so it really makes business sense to prioritise employee health and wellbeing.
“In my role as a Welsh Government ambassador for the Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales strategy, I’m keen to raise awareness of the fact that everyone has a role to play in making it easier for people to live healthier lives – businesses included.
“With nearly two in three adults overweight or obese, we face a huge public health challenge if nothing is done. Being overweight increases the risk of many serious health conditions, placing a huge strain on our health and social care services, and our wider economy.
“Welsh Government is committed to making the healthy choice the easy choice in Wales and as employers and managers we can all do our bit to support this – from helping to create healthy settings and environments, to supporting people of all ages to make healthier food and activity choices.
“There are a range of approaches which can be considered by employers, such as:
- Increasing the proportion and appeal of healthier food and drink options in cafes, dining rooms and vending machines so they become the norm;
- Restricting promotion and incentives on unhealthy products and increasing promotion and incentives on healthier options;
- Incentivising schemes to promote good physical and mental health such as offering free health checks or cycle to work schemes;
- Providing facilities and policies to support active travel;
- Promoting peer support workplace initiatives to encourage physical activity, such as lunchtime walks, monthly wellness challenges or weight loss programmes
- Encouraging staff to take time away from their desks to move more regularly
“There are already a number of fantastic approaches being taken forward by businesses across Wales and many of these are recognised by the Healthy Working Wales programme.
“My own employers have taken the initiative by giving employees two hours’ free time per week and an additional day’s leave every year incentivising them to take part in a physical activity.
“Our lifestyle behaviours are influenced and driven by the environment around us, so ask yourself – does your workplace setting support the making of healthy lifestyle choices and, if not, what could be done to address this. By enabling change and doing your bit, you can help the people of Wales, and our future generations, live longer better lives, which will not only benefit your business, but the economy as a whole.”
The Healthy Working Wales website has more guidance and support on managing employees’ physical and mental health. Visit healthyworkingwales.wales.nhs.uk
For more information about Welsh Government’s Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales strategy, visit gov.wales/obesity