Having been hidden away in a file labelled ‘taboo’ until just a few years ago, mental health is now firmly on the agenda of most employers.
In fact, research among the UK’s largest listed companies shows that 93% now recognise mental health as an important business issue. There clearly remain areas where progress needs to be made, but findings such as this highlight a general appreciation for the importance of supporting workers’ emotional and psychological wellbeing.
No less important, however, is the issue of supporting workers’ physical health, and that is exactly what many company leaders will be looking to do on National Fitness Day on 20th September. This year, the event is looking to encourage people to recognise the role of physical activity as being integral to living a healthier life.
Workplaces across the UK are expected to take part by hosting fitness-focused events for colleagues as well as encouraging team members to participate in activities within their local area and providing them with tips and information about how to lead a more active, healthy work-life.
Tackling a ‘silent killer’
Campaigns such as National Fitness Day are helping to address the fact that many people in today’s technology-enabled world lead overly sedentary lives, with some adults spending more than seven hours a day sitting down. Such a lack of movement can have serious consequences. Indeed, inactivity is now acknowledged as the fourth leading risk factor for death worldwide and the Department of Health and Social Care has labelled it a “silent killer”.
Exactly how active you choose to be is a choice for each individual. The UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend being active every day and aiming to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity across a variety of activities over the course of a week. For those who do undertake regular exercise, there are significant rewards. This includes reducing your risk of major illnesses, such as coronary heart disease and cancer, and lowering your risk of early death by up to 30%.
But the benefits of exercise are not exclusively physical. The old adage of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ found backing from a scientific study published in 2018 which drew on exercise and mental health data from 1.2 million people. It found a link between moderate exercise and positive mental health, with those who exercised between 30 minutes and an hour each day reporting two fewer days of poor mental health per month compared to those who did not exercise.
In what might be described as a win-win situation, improving an employee’s physical and mental wellbeing also brings obvious benefits to the employer. For example, it can help reduce the number of days lost through poor health, improving a worker’s individual productivity while also helping them to contribute to an overall improvement in productivity among the wider team.
And productivity is not just about staff being more present. Crucially, having good physical health can also result in staff being happier, whether through the direct ‘high’ of an endorphin rush, through reduced levels of stress, or through improved self-esteem. Research has proven this link between higher levels of activity and improved life satisfaction and happiness, while separate studies have, in turn, proved that happy workers also happen to be more productive.
There are a variety of ways for employers to encourage physical activity and fitness among their workforce. This can range from simple cost-free options, such as communicating the benefits of physical movement in the workplace, to more significant investments, such as the provision of in-house exercise equipment or facilities.
A popular employee benefit is the provision of subsidised gym membership. For many, going to the gym is deemed a luxury in terms of both money and time, but nearly half of people say they would be more active if they had access to more affordable facilities and had more time to fit exercise into their working day.
Employers can help by negotiating corporate discounts for staff at local gyms and leisure facilities. Depending on the funding model used, memberships can be either taxed as earnings or a taxable benefit-in-kind (BiK). Gym memberships can be paid through salary sacrifice as a non-cash benefit, although, importantly, this must be seen in light of the fact it will lead to a reduction in an individual’s taxable salary.
Whatever fitness-related benefits an employer decides to offer, these options have the potential to help to create a healthier, happier workforce. More than that, they have the potential to encourage staff loyalty and retention by sending a message that worker wellbeing truly matters.
The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information. Vintage Health or any of its associated representatives shall not be liable for any technical, editorial, typographical or other errors or omissions within the content of this communication.