Workers uncomfortable with employers interfering in their lives

Employees want boundaries between their work and personal lives amid fears of ‘Big Brother’ cultures

More than half (52%) of UK workers say they are uncomfortable with their employer getting involved in their personal lifestyle choices, according to Willis Towers Watson.

Its research, which surveyed 2,000 people, found that 56% view lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption, as a personal matter.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents who said they felt uncomfortable wanted to keep a boundary between their personal and work lives, 37% said they didn’t understand why their employer should be involved in their lifestyle choices, and 34% feared it would create a ‘Big Brother’ culture.

Despite this almost one in three workers (30%) think their employer has a moral responsibility to help them lead a fit and healthy lifestyle.

One in five (20%) said they would most like support such as benefits, voluntary wellbeing schemes, or advice pertaining to fitness, and one in five (19%) would like help with relaxation.

However, employers seem to be falling short in this area, with less than half of employees (46%) saying the company they work for helps them lead a fit and healthy lifestyle.

Mike Blake, director, health and benefits GB at Willis Towers Watson, told HR magazine that employers must be cautious in how they approach health and wellbeing. “This is an important issue because both employers and the country will pay for absenteeism associated with poor health in some way. While it’s difficult to measure how involved employers actually are, I think employers should be cautious in how they talk about health and wellbeing,” he said.

“Part of this is accepting that everyone will be different; some people might enjoy regular exercise and sport but not everyone can be an athlete. So it’s important to offer something that will appeal to everyone.”

This comes as separate research from scientists at Queen's University Belfast recently showed that sedentary behaviour could be contributing to 70,000 deaths each year in the UK. Researchers identified the workplace as a significant factor.

Blake said that encouraging a move away from sedentary behaviour is a key area where employers can help.

“This is an instance where there is an opportunity for employers to do some nudging, without staff feeling pressured. There are easy ways to avoid excessive time spent at desks. For example you could introduce standing desks or have more standing meetings, with the promise that they’ll be much shorter,” he said.

Blake added that it’s HR’s role to send a balanced message on health and wellbeing: “See what employees think and make changes gradually – you don’t want to put people off. There’s a fine balance between interfering in people’s lives and offering ways to genuinely improve health and wellbeing. It’s up to HR to find that line.”