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A get-fit-for-work regime

<b>How well you function at work depends on how fit you are. As the chief custodians of the workforces wellbeing, HR managers must set a healthy example, says Stefan Stern</b>

Its official: sickness absence is getting worse. Earlier this year the annual Work Foundation survey found that the cost of absenteeism has risen to around 8 billion a year. In the private sector employees are taking on average over seven days off sick a year, with absenteeism running at double that rate in the public sector.

Something is going wrong. But what sort of example are you setting your organisation with your own health and fitness? Are you constantly struggling in to work, declaring yourself indispensable and running down your health? Are you fit enough to meet the demands of your job?

Chiropractor Tone Tellefsen has seen a marked increase in the number of business clients over the past decade. Problems arise because of the long hours people work, theres no time to exercise, they sit in cars or at their desk, and all this puts a lot of pressure on the body, she says. The use of PCs and the mouse has put a great strain on people too. A lot of professional people have RSI, shoulder injuries, chronic headache and back pain.

Its a miserable catalogue of illness. Clear thought processes and efficient, productive work will only emerge from a healthy body. In the worst cases physical problems can mount up and develop into mental ones as well. Next month is mental health action week (20-26 April), and the Mental Health Foundation will be highlighting the relationship between the long hours culture and poor mental health.

We know that many people neglect their relationships, social networks, their children and interests when they work long hours, says Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation. Neglecting these things can put people at risk of developing mental heath problems.

If the diagnosis is so gloomy, what about the possible cure? As the chief custodians of the workforces wellbeing, HR managers must look to their own health first. A radical reappraisal of working patterns may be necessary. If lunch is just a rushed sandwich at your desk, it is not a healthy option. Are you agreeing to too many early or late meetings? Perhaps staggering work patterns will allow you to get more rest and avoid the worst of the traffic. Do you ever get up from the desk and take a break from the VDU? Are you taking too much paperwork home? In all sorts of unseen ways your everyday work habits may be taking

their toll.

If your GP doesnt seem to have all the answers you need, dont rule out complementary treatments. Says Susan Thorne, a member of the British Acupuncture Council, A lot of senior executives havent thought properly about their bodies for ages. They ricochet from one cold to another, they suffer from migraines or irritable bowel syndrome, and just consider it to be one of those things they have to put up with.

Acupuncture has been shown to help people rebalance their energy, Thorne adds, which is the starting point for maintaining good health. You wouldnt think twice about taking your car in for an MOT, so why not your body? For your own sake as well as that of your workforce, it is time to get serious about health.