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Employee wellbeing: Step it up

Guest blog by Wan Mak, Head of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sodexo UK and Ireland

According to Public Health England, two-thirds of the UK’s population are failing to reach the minimum recommended levels of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Aside from the fact that physical activity can help treat or prevent over 20 chronic conditions such as stroke, heart disease and stress, exercise along with a healthier balanced diet can also reduce company spend on absenteeism by improving the health and fitness of workers.

There are many things that organisations in the UK can do to improve employee wellbeing within both the private and public sectors. A common impediment to progress in this area is the difficulty in measuring ROI. According to research undertaken by Indaba Health and Wellness in partnership with HR Magazine, 37% of organisations cite difficulty providing meaningful metrics and proving ROI as one of the biggest barriers to implementing a strategy. And when asked ‘Have you worked out how to measure ROI when it comes to health and wellbeing initiatives?’, only 4% answered positively. A worrying 61% said ‘no’ and 35% said they were ‘working on it’.

In the absence of viable ROI metrics to substantiate the launch of health and wellbeing programmes, however, the cost of employee absenteeism due to illness is staggering. A CBI survey from 2010 showed that the 180 million days of sickness absence in the UK cost organisations £16.8bn. A further 13.1 million days were taken as mental illness leave, proving employee absenteeism as a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

As part of its efforts in combating the issue of employee wellbeing, Sodexo recently conducted its annual employee challenge, ‘Step into Summer’. Employees were encouraged to walk, run or cycle the equivalent of at least 10,000 steps a day in order to increase fitness levels, and if they wanted to, to raise money for charity as well.

Staff across all areas of the business joined forces to form competitive teams. Employees including those who work in public sector settings, such as barracks, prisons and schools, took part and were issued with an activity sensor and user license to a challenge website so that they could track their progress and keep an eye on the competition. The most engaged teams were from the defence sector with the winners from Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire retaining their crown from last year. Overall, 595 employees from the company participated and clocked up over 230 million steps, which equates to 100,000 miles, raising £4,000 for the company’s own charity.

Initiatives such as this step challenge can lead to vast improvements in the health and fitness of employees. Prior to the 2014 challenge, 35% of participants met the government recommendations for physical activity. After six weeks, this number had increased to 79%, leading to staff members feeling more positive and confident with greater reserves of energy. 20% felt less stressed and slept better, which in turn ensured that they were more productive at work.

It is important to encourage regular exercise as part of a balanced lifestyle, including small changes such as using the stairs instead of escalators or lifts. Workers, in general, do want to be more active. According to data from Transport for London, between 2000 and 2010, there was a 117% increase in the use of London’s cycle network, as more and more employees use bikes as their main mode of transport when commuting. Mirroring this trend, 93% of ‘Step into Summer’ participants said that they would be maintaining the higher level of activity after the challenge.

Elsie Sutton, cleaning manager within Sodexo’s Defence Sector, who took part with 20 of her cleaners, commented: “The ‘Step into Summer’ experience was excellent for my team, with everyone working really hard to achieve their steps each day. They all supported each other and really enjoyed having a goal to work together on. Some of the team also used this as a springboard into getting fitter and losing weight, leading to team members eating healthier foods during their break times, including myself.” 

Organisations also have the added benefit, when enhancing employee wellbeing, of raising their CSR profile – as it shows them to be a supportive and pro-active employer. Productivity levels increase, which in turn supports company engagement and retention targets. As demonstrated by a 2014 University of Warwick study, happy workers are up to 12% more productive than those who are not, so it is important to ensure that measures are put in place to support their wellbeing. Fundraising targets can also be met whilst allowing staff to support the charities that mean most to them. Evidence also shows that FTSE 100 companies that track and report the success of their well-being programmes outperform those that don’t by 10%.

In short, something as simple as allowing time for exercise and encouraging more of it, or introducing challenges such as a step challenge, have a part to play in combatting typical workplace issues, such as stress, sickness, mental health concerns and productivity.

wan photo

(Above: Wan Mak)


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