01.09.2013 Employee fitness is also an economic factor
Physical activity in the workplace. On average, employees spend 60% of their day in the workplace, many of them doing sedentary work. As a result, over 50% of the working population do not get enough exercise, their performance declines and they are more likely to fall ill. Employers can counter this trend by introducing physical activity programmes at work.
The human body is made for physical activity. But in the present-day service-based economies of highly developed countries, office-type work is growing exponentially. It seldom requires physical activity, and poor posture often develops over time. But manual labour also frequently has damaging effects on health. Jobs that involve carrying heavy loads often result in musculoskeletal problems, particularly of the back. Strengthening and relaxation of the body is therefore important in all sectors of the economy and benefits not only the workforce, but their employers as well. Fit and active employees are more resistant to a hectic pace of work and stress, they are better at handling pressure, have fewer health problems and are absent less frequently.
A healthy workforce = more profits
Corporate health promotion is often limited to isolated measures such as providing healthy food choices in the canteen or incentives to give up smoking. Nowadays, however there is a need for wider-reaching programmes that include physical activity. Studies show that such "multicomponent programmes" significantly improve health, reduce absenteeism and ultimately generate economic benefits. The business consultancy Boston Consulting Group estimates that the productivity gains yielded by a simple corporate health-promotion programme could enable a European company to achieve health-cost savings or additional profits of up to 400 US dollars per employee per year.
Intervening at four levels
But what does a corporate physical-
activity programme need in order to be successful? What makes it more acceptable to employees and more likely to be used by them? Studies indicate that interventions at four different levels are required:
– personal level
– interpersonal level
– organisational level
– environmental level
To be successful, such programmes have to enjoy the backing of top management and be integrated into the corporate guidelines. They should also be part of a comprehensive health management programme.
As far back as 1986, the Ottawa Charter designated the workplace as an important setting for prevention activities. In addition, Swiss government minister Alain Berset has explicitly included the workplace as a setting for prevention in the federal "Health 2020" strategy. At the beginning of 2013, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) cooperated with the Swiss Foundation for Health Promotion and Suva (Swiss Accident Insurance Fund) in launching a joint project to promote, among other goals, physical activity at the workplace. The aim is to harness existing knowledge and available resources to help interested companies devise and implement suitable tools and methods for promoting the health of their employees at the workplace.
The pilot project is already in the realisation phase: at its Orbe (Canton of Vaud) site, Nestlé has developed various approaches that are designed to improve physical wellbeing in the workplace and prevent musculoskeletal disorders.
Alberto Marcacci, Head of the Nutritionand Physical Activity Section, firstname.lastname@example.org