More than half of UK adults walk just a mile or less on an average work day, research has suggested. Whether it’s taking the stairs, getting off a stop early or encouraging employees to use local parks at lunchtime, employers have an important role to play in getting workers up and on their feet.
Employee health and wellbeing – employees need to be encouraged to love walking
On an average weekday more than half (52%) of UK adults walk a mile or less, and almost a fifth (17%) admit to walking less than a quarter of a mile, research from the charity Cancer Research UK has concluded.
As a result, during June, the charity set up a “Step Up Stop” at King’s Cross station in London to encourage commuters to sign up to its Walk All Over Cancer challenge, which encouraged people to take 10,000 steps a day during that month.
The main reasons given by respondents for failing to walk as much as they should was “a lack of time”, as cited by nearly a third (32%) of those polled, followed by “bad weather” (25%).
Katie Edmunds, Cancer Research UK health information officer, said: “These are worrying figures, as we know that being regularly physically active can have a host of health benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer.
“While our frenzied lifestyles can make it tough for people to find time to keep active, any level of exercise is better than none, so building some moderate activity into your daily routine can really make a difference,” she added.
Commuting and health
The figures chime with separate research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace about the negative health effects a long commute can have on the average worker.
Its study of 34,000 workers found employees commuting less than half an hour gained an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year, compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more.
Longer-commuting workers were 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial concerns and 12% more likely to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress, it added.
They were also 46% more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night and 21% more likely to be obese.
So, what then should employers make of this?
First off, on the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research, its findings do need to be caveated by what form the commute is taking.
As research in the BMJ earlier this year highlighted, UK commuters who cycled to work (perhaps unsurprisingly) reported lower rates of cancer and heart disease, compared to other types of commuters, especially more sedentary car drivers.
At the same time, it is self-evident that a long, stressful, tiring commute every day can take its physical and mental toll on health, especially if it means the employee is relying on often less than healthy station-bought food to keep them going.
But we can also make another link: activity. The Cancer Research UK study highlights that employees, whether on their commute or once at work, are simply not being active enough.
Getting out to the park at lunchtime
It is clear employers can play an important role in breaking this sedentary cycle. They can encourage workers to be more active during the working day – whether it’s just taking the stairs rather than the lift or something more full-blown such as access to a subsidised gym.
Employers can encourage employees to build more activity in their commute, whether through simply getting off a stop earlier and walking or ensuring there is the right infrastructure in place – both benefit-based (such as cycle-to-work schemes) and physical (cycle racks, showers and so on).
They can also take a step back and look at environmental and cultural factors. Is their workplace environment encouraging a long-hours culture; are workstations and meeting areas too sedentary; are managers modelling best behaviours around ensuring people take regular breaks from their screens?
Employers, finally, can also do more to encourage their employees to get up and out of the office in the middle of the day rather than grabbing a sandwich at their desk.
One route into this could be by embracing and promoting initiatives such as Love Parks Week, this year between July 14-23.
Employers can also support their local authorities to manage and maintain their parks through sponsorship (perhaps a bench or a specific garden or zone) or through volunteering activities, for example encouraging employees to get involved in sponsored park clean-up days.
Equally, it can often simply be a case of engaging with local authorities to say, “I’m here and would like to help”, and see what they say. For example, Leeds City Council has recently launched a “Business in the Park” initiative to encourage local firms to invest and joint work in their local parks.
As the Cancer Research UK research shows, not only can embracing initiatives such as this benefit your local community, they’ll help to burnish your local reputation and, crucially, send a clear message to your employees about the value you place on exercise and activity, both during and outside the working day. What’s not to like?
If nothing else read this
- More than half of UK adults walk just a mile or less, and almost a fifth walk less than a quarter of a mile on an average work day
- People with long commutes are more likely to suffer from depression, have financial concerns and to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress
- Employers have an important role to play in encouraging employees to be more active, whether inside or outside work, or during the daily commute
Posted in News,Occupational health by OH Assist on the 17th July 2017