Busy schedules, looming deadlines – the demands of today’s workplace can make it challenging for employees to prioritise a healthy, active lifestyle. Employees often sit for hours in front of computers or workstations, increasing the amount of time they spend in a sustained sedentary state during their workdays.
What can employers do to promote physical activity in the workplace and reduce sedentary behaviour? One of the fastest and most effective ways is by creating a health-related policy and program.
A report on Workplace Interventions highlighted the need for employees to promote a healthy active lifestyle. The report proposed a model on how employers can help employees change their behaviour towards physical activity. Louis Thériault, Vice-President, Public Policy, the Conference Board of Canada viewed the workplace as an ideal and important setting for health promotion. “Corporate wellness initiatives must fit with the organisational culture so that employees are more likely to participate,” he said.
Faced with competing priorities, employees often feel that they cannot prioritise their health. Inactive employees need to change their behaviours and participate, which is a challenge in most organisations. Our bodies’ natural desires to move are affected by our information-age sedentary jobs and the ever-present lure of screens. The challenge here is not only to provide opportunities to be more active, but also to shift work cultural norms where sitting less and moving more are expected and accepted at work.
The report identified two types of initiatives that employers can implement in their workplaces to make change:
Employers must be aware that some employees might have health issues that could limit or affect the way they can participate in physical activities. For example, it might be unsafe for an employee with a known heart condition to join an intense aerobic activity without medical approval or supervision. Or, an employee with rheumatoid arthritis might need a specialized exercise program that does not cause flare-ups or worsen their conditions.
Small nudges can also be implemented in the workplace to promote physical movement during the workday. As an example, employers can encourage employees to talk to colleagues in person as opposed to emailing or calling via phone. Employers can also move the printers, faxes, and water coolers further from cubicles to make workers physically move longer.
By understanding the health profile of employee population, a wellness leader can identify risk factors within an organisation and provide targeted interventions to ensure that all employees can safely become more physically active.
Employers should focus on not only increasing physical activity levels among employees but also ensuring the programs are executed well. This can be done by making sure that health-related policies are in place.
Health-related policy is a set of established guidelines incorporated within a company policy and procedures that highlight the importance of effective and manageable health practices. The policy can be either a formal or informal written statement that is designed to protect or promote employee health. Employers that develop health-based programs and services as a baseline measure to promote healthy culture usually generate better productivity among all workforce.
According to CDC, recommended health policy should cover:
HR policies that relate to work hours, leave, flexible scheduling, work organisation, and supervisory style should be developed with desired health goals in mind. Regardless of which interventions are selected, the programs should strive to: Use multiple interventions, such as combining a policy and a health benefit intervention, for a single health issue – combinations are more effective than any intervention alone; and Use interventions that address multiple health issues at the same time, which is more effective than addressing each single health issue separately.