Five ideas for employers to encourage better physical (and mental) health amongst employees

The correlation between improved mental health and wellbeing, and exercise is indisputable. According to The Mental Health Foundation physical activity has a huge potential to enhance wellbeing in our population stating: 

“It is known that even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking increases mental alertness, energy and positive mood states.” 

In its 2013 Let’s Get Physical Report the Foundation produced it highlights that:

“Participation in regular physical activity can increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety. Physical activity can help play a role in preventing mental health problems and improve the quality of life of those experiencing it. For example, there is an approximately 20–30% lower risk for depression and dementia, for adults participating in daily physical activity.”

Looking after employees’ mental health not only makes sense on a human level but also on a business level; poor mental health costs employers billions as a result of lost productivity.  Fortunately attitudes towards the importance of mental health are well and truly shifting and business leaders are keen to educate themselves about what they can do to help their employees to thrive.

There are, of course, other factors which can contribute to an individual’s wellbeing in the workplace, a number of which we discuss right here in our blog section. However in this blog post I wanted to focus in on what employers can do to encourage physical exercise because it’s a piece of the puzzle that I feel very passionate about, particularly given that my weekly netball matches really help with my own anxiety and wellbeing. 

Check out more on the power of netball in this blog from England Netball. Go Shaharun! Hugely inspiring stuff. 

Provide gym membership or contribute to another sports activity

Offering either free or subsidised gym membership for your staff is a good way to encourage a healthy lifestyle and improve mental health amongst the team. Bear in mind that the gym may not be everyone’s cup of tea, ask your employees what they would like. Of course you can’t cater to all individual needs but there’s no point in creating a gym membership scheme if nobody is going to take it up; perhaps consider providing access to local sports facilities or clubs instead. 

More information about these types of benefits and their tax implications can be found here.

Organise a sports tournament or game

Ever considered organising a work sports tournament? We’re lucky in Brighton as we have access to the wonderful Yellow Wave – well for at least six months of the year, but there are other sports which aren’t quite so weather dependent such as football and netball. Tournaments are a great way for people to mix who may not normally interact together. Hire a hall at a sports centre or, in the summer, head to the local park for a game of rounders, and let the fun begin! You may be surprised to discover certain competitive streaks you never knew existed. 

Invest in a bike to work scheme

With sustainable lifestyles at the top of many of our agendas, investing in a bike to work scheme can be not only a great way to encourage employees to get out and about but also do something for the greater good. Many schemes, such as Cyclescheme, allow employees to save money on a new bike and as well as spreading the cost over a given period. 

With schemes like this employers can save too as you recover the full cost of the bike and generate a NICs saving of up to 13.8% of its value.

Offer a yoga class

As well as the physical benefits, there are a number of mental health and wellness benefits associated with the practice of yoga which could be helpful in stressful times, as a result in recent years a number of businesses have begun to offer a lunchtime or after-work yoga class. However, once again, it all comes back to listening – is this something that your employees would be interested in? Perhaps run the classes on a trial period of three months or so then and the review at the end to see what the uptake was like before you commit to the classes becoming part of your wellbeing strategy. 

Do something for charity

Getting active for charity is a great way of improving physical and mental health across your organisation. Not only will this enable employees to get active but they will also get to do something for the greater good. In Brighton, the Sealife Centre organise multiple beach cleans throughout the year. Take this further by allowing employees the morning off to participate, they will think more of the business and what it stands for as a result. 

In summary

This type of activity should all form part of your ongoing employee engagement strategy, but encouraging physical exercise amongst staff is proven to improve employee morale, reduce employee absence from work, improve concentration and alertness and much more, so what are you waiting for?! 

Start by communicating your mission, and, for those with smaller budgets, find out what appeals most to the majority and take it from there.

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