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Active working should be embedded in workplace culture

There are productivity gains to be made by considering the health and wellbeing of employees

Active working should be embedded in workplace culture and not treated as an add-on, according to Carol Black, expert advisor on health and work to NHS England and Public Health England.

Speaking at the Active Working Summit 2017, Black said employers should take a holistic approach to health. “You need to build a firm foundation on which to base your workplace health strategy, rather than seeing it as an add-on,” she said. “It needs to be embedded for it to be effective.”

Active working involves breaking up periods of sitting by using standing desks, encouraging employees to walk regularly, or allowing employees to stand during meetings.

Black stressed that there are many health issues that affect productivity, from long-term illnesses such as cancer through to common problems such as stress and fatigue caused by inactivity. “We know that muscles can become frail if they aren’t used,” she said. “Once that has happened it can affect your ability to work and your productivity.”

Michael Brannan, deputy national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said that organisations should not be ignoring the health of their employees. “Our research shows one in three people are living with a long-term condition,” he said. “For businesses to improve productivity they must start to think about health.

“Work-related absences cost the UK about 131 million working days per year. We have to remember the business case for having a healthy workplace.”

Benjamin Garder, senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Kings College London, explained that it is not enough to simply set a strategy and then enforce it. “If your workers don’t want to do it they may actively resist,” he said. “They may choose not to comply with your wellbeing policy, or they may start looking to change jobs.

“For your strategy to be effective you need people to be engaged, and that will turn into behavioural change.”

Black agreed: “Context is important,” she said. “If you told me I had to do a Zumba class I’d rebel!”