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The transition to new ways of working and collaborating over the last year and a half has taken a significant toll on the physical health of employees. Rising obesity, stress, poor diet and more sedentary lifestyles are all part of the new working world we inhabit.

Public awareness about mental health and the importance of staff wellbeing has grown sharply in recent months. Without doubt this is a massive achievement; but there is still much more to be done in improving the physical health of staff as well, for example by supporting employees with weight management, good eating habits and regular exercise, and by helping them to get the most out of any employee wellbeing benefits and/or initiatives your organisation may offer. Businesses need to invest in the health of their workforces if they want to reap the rewards of higher productivity.

On the whole, fit and healthy workers are more likely to stay positive, focused and motivated to succeed. They are also less at risk of illness and developing health complications, meaning that businesses may reduce levels of staff absence and presenteeism (when employees continue to show up to work in spite of a health problem, resulting in lower productivity).

Dr Colin Hamilton-Davies

Dr Colin Hamilton-Davies.

Rising obesity levels have made employees particularly vulnerable to disease infection and hospitalisation. Dr Colin Hamilton-Davies, the Clinical Lead for Acute Cardiac Critical Care at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Heart Centre in London, explains that a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or more increases your risk of admission to intensive care by 50%. “It’s harder to fight off infection when you have a higher percentage of body fat”, he says. “Obesity also puts pressure on our bodies, making us more vulnerable to many diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer”.

The links between being overweight and the development of severe symptoms from COVID-19 infection have given us all a wake-up call.

The statistics are stark: a BMI of greater than 25 increases the admission rate to intensive care with COVID-19 by 50%. A BMI of 35-40 increases the risk of dying from COVID-19 by over 40%, and with a BMI greater than 40 by 90%. If you need to lose weight, then this is the time to get serious about doing something.

The situation is equally stark for employees at risk of developing diabetes. As Dr Hamilton-Davies explains, “almost 4 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes, with 90% of these having type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and diet. A further 12 million people are at risk of developing diabetes”. There are clear links between obesity, diabetes and increased risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19 infection.

The pandemic has placed the eating and lifestyle habits of many employees under strain, as the transition to home and hybrid working styles has generally resulted in more sedentary work routines. Working from home can make it significantly harder to stay focused and maintain a good diet and exercise.

However, businesses need to invest in promoting awareness and education about staff health, and creating meaningful support for those who need it. The most resilient and successful businesses place the health and wellbeing of staff at the top of their priorities. They equip staff with essential resources, for example through the provision of regular health publications and educational talks and webinars. They also create effective support structures, for example by providing training for managers and Wellbeing Champion teams who can help drive their organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy from below. Staff initiatives, such as employee nutrition and exercise programmes, can play a vital role in motivating your staff to make positive changes to their lifestyles.

Businesses should also pay sufficient attention to staff workstation setups so as to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) occurring. A digital workstation assessment tool, such as Thrive4ife’s Online DSE Workstation Assessment Tool, may help you to monitor your staff’s workstations no matter where they are working from.

The health of employees should be at the forefront of every company. Employees who feel cared for, supported and educated about their health are able to increase their productivity and produce better quality work. The more an organisation supports their employees in taking charge of their health and wellbeing, the more motivated and productive workforce it has. Health really does matter for business.

Now is the time to invest in the health of your workforce

Thrive4Life is at your side to help businesses protect the health and wellbeing of employees and futureproof your organisation’s ability to succeed. Our health and wellbeing promotional services and training solutions can help you to enhance your staff’s productivity during this time of change, no matter what they are going through.

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