106 Communications

6th Sense

Health and Wellbeing: how can employers help fight the flab?

September 2014 | Employee Engagement, Health and Wellbeing

Recently the Chief Executive of the National Health Service, Simon Stevens, talked about the ticking time-bomb that is obesity:

“If as a nation we keep piling on the pounds around the waistline, we’ll be piling on the pounds in terms of future taxes needed just to keep the NHS afloat.”

In his proposals to tackle obesity, two caught our eye:

New incentives to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own 1.3 million staff to stay healthy.

Financial incentives to be offered to employers in England who provide effective NICE-certified workplace health programmes for employees.

The first is spot on.  The NHS must take the lead on this – and not simply because it is there to save lives.  But also because it is our largest and most high-profile employer.  Our leading employers must set an example.

The second is more contentious.  The Work Foundation conducted research into the effectiveness of such tax benefits in 2013 and found that potentially they would have little effect on tackling the problem.  In part, because the tax benefits are likely to be taken up by organisations already offering health services.  But also because they couldn’t see what ‘workplace interventions’ would be effective in helping employees to fight the flab.

We’re not doctors – and there doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet to tackle obesity.  But we do know that benefits such as gym memberships are benefits not interventions, and gym membership tends only to appeal to people who are already focused on fitness.

Surely employers (and government) need to think differently about this problem – because it is only going to get worse and impact more and more on employers.  One of the most important considerations, at least for us, is the power of collective action.  Weight Watchers is successful in helping people to lose weight because every member is help accountable within the dynamics of a group, providing motivation and support at the same time.

This seems to be a great engagement opportunity for employers…

But surely there’s a chance for employers to go even further and take a more proactive role in the health and wellbeing of its employees – on everything from the importance of hydration and diet to posture, stress management and mental health.  It’s not simply a question of addressing absenteeism or managing healthcare costs, but it’s a whole new way to engage colleagues, improve performance and build loyalty.

There are already some employers leading the charge – and you’d kind of expect it from the likes of BUPA who have some great internal programmes.  But we also love the fact that a company like Ginsters has seen the importance of workplace wellbeing – and 86% of staff have now taken part…


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