British Heart Foundation urges employers to boost wellbeing of their staff

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More than a quarter of the UK’s workforce have a health problem that has lasted longer than a year, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). This equates to eight million people with a chronic illness.

The BHF’s new Health at Work Index shows that almost 650,000 workers call in sick each week – this figure translates as 2% of the workforce being absent at some point every week because of poor health.

Employers can and should do their bit to improve health and wellbeing at work, thereby improving sickness levels and productivity, says the BHF. The heart charity has created Health at Work, a free programme to help employers implement health and wellbeing initiatives. The programme includes free tools and resources, such as a welcome pack, quarterly members’ packs, a monthly newsletter, practical guides and resources, access to an online community and to training events. More than 8,000 organisations are already signed up to the programme, which encourages people to eat well, get active, quit smoking and reduce stress levels.

Helping employees improve their health

HITEK, a small electronic material distributor in Scunthorpe, has subscribed to the programme. With the BHF’s help, it set up a health and wellbeing programme three years ago, which includes an annual pedometer challenge, healthy eating and exercise sessions and workplace support for those who want to give up smoking.

“The response has been fantastic,” says Jim Lawton, managing director at HITEK. “All 22 of our employees have taken steps to improve their health since it launched. Many of our smokers have managed to quit, and our employees feel empowered to do more exercise and eat a healthier diet as a result of the free health programmes we offer.”

Lawton thinks that it is very easy for employers to put off addressing workplace health, ignoring the fact that there are significant business benefits from having a healthier workforce. “We’ve realised that helping our employees stay healthy is a vital ingredient in our success,” he says.

Poor health can lead to higher workplace absence levels, lower morale and productivity – all of which cost the British economy an estimated £100 billion a year. Lisa Purcell, project manager of the BHF’s Health at Work programme, says the Health at Work Index highlights just how important it is that employers consider what they can do to improve employee health.

“By shining a light on the health of workers in a range of industries, we hope to inspire employers to champion the wellbeing of their workers,” she says. “This will ultimately benefit the health of their business in the long run – it’s not just your workforce that will benefit from a health kick, but your company’s bottom line will get a boost too.”

A better bottom line

The index looked at the physical and mental wellbeing of more than 185,000 employees across the UK. The transport and storage sector, which includes jobs in warehousing and logistics, reported having the workforce with the poorest health. This was followed by people in industry, such as agriculture and mining, then administrative and support roles, such as securities and facilities management.

One person in 10 (11.7%) of those polled – roughly 3.5 million people – said that their ability to do their job was limited by poor health. These included people with diabetes (58%) and people suffering from depression, mental illness or panic attacks (also 58%). Nearly one respondent in six (15.7%) reported heart and circulatory health problems. The BHF says the risk of developing many of the problems mentioned in the report, such as coronary heart disease, can be significantly reduced by losing weight, eating a balanced diet and increasing levels of physical activity.

To sign up to the BHF’s Health at Work programme or to find out more, visit bhf.org.uk/personneltoday

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