Employee health: how a supportive approach can benefit a business

Employee health: how businesses can help workers fight flab

June 10, 2014

Should UK businesses be more proactive in helping employees fight the flab?

Latest research has revealed the UK now has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe, but what role do employers actually have to play in the well-being of their workforce?

The Global Burden of Disease study claims 67 per cent of UK males and 57 per cent of women are overweight or obese.

It concludes “urgent global action and leadership is needed to help countries to more effectively intervene”.

For starters, probably best to avoid India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s approach.

The watchdog caused uproar by announcing cabin crew members working for the country’s airlines could be suspended from flying if their BMI falls outside the ‘normal’ range – affecting 600 air hostesses’ jobs.

The ruling was branded “arbitrary and discriminatory” by the senior official of the All India Cabin Crew Association.

Instead, avoid critical methods and adopt a more holistic approach, according to James Dunningham, operations director for Health@Work, an independent charity that provides health and safety support to organisations.

He said: “Obesity is a major issue for employers as it is a huge cause of sickness absence which costs a lot of money.

“According to PricewaterhouseCoopers research, the payback of investing in employee health is a minimum of 100 per cent so it’s clear employers have a role to play in health awareness, even just to minimise the cost of absences.

“Judgemental methods will not be successful and will just alienate your employees. You need a supportive and collaborative approach with well-trained line managers who can deal with difficult conversations.

“Often specific areas of health problems are linked to other issues and so we advise that people don’t address each one separately.

“Encouraging a more holistic view of this and demonstrating the links between diet, exercise, alcohol, mental health and other issues is more effective.”

He added: “By addressing employee health issues, you will end up with a loyal, productive workforce that appreciates the support their employer offers which can aid staff retention and engagement levels.”

James’ top tips to tackle employee health:
• Use surveys and sickness absence reports to assess the specific health needs of your employees.
• National well-being tools can be a great resource. A free workplace charter is available from wellbeingcharter.org.uk
• Engage with public health teams and utlilise free services, including smoking cessation and weight loss programmes.
• Communicate health information in an engaging way – creativity goes a long way.
• Steer employees away from fad diets and educate them on the value of a balanced diet.