Should you be allowed time off work to exercise?

When booking a visit to the dentist recently I thought to myself “This used to get me a half day off work” whereas now as a self-employed PT if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  And it got me thinking, why are you allowed to take time off work for certain health reasons and not others?  It’s easy to get time off work to visit the GP, for a physio appointment, a counselling session, or many of the other health related professions, but not to exercise.  Why is this?  Is exercise not important enough to promote within the workplace?  The Center for Disease Control estimate 3 out of 4 US dollars employers spend on health costs are to treat chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and depression… ALL OF WHICH CAN BE MANAGED BY EXERCISE AND HEALTHY DIET.  I found some alarming statistics in my research of this topic which I will detail in this article.

 

British employers are losing on average 1 month of productive time per employee due to health reasons.  These can be broken down into; lost productivity in the workplace, medical expenses of employees and work absences.  Be it short term factors like low energy levels leading to reduced productivity, alcoholism resulting in lateness and a decline in performance, cigarette breaks combining to 30 mins out of the office daily.  Or it could be long term and more severe factors such as spinal disc problems from desk life leading to a weekly osteopath treatment, osteoporosis from inactivity again leading to more time out of the office, or conditions that leave employees in hospital for months all at the expense of the employer in both wages and medical bills.  So many costs that can be avoided if healthy activities and behaviours were encouraged.

 

There’s a few wellness schemes employers are starting to introduce to encourage healthy living.  Cycling or running to work can be rewarded financially in some workplaces where you get paid per mile of your commute.  Taking the stairs is often encouraged and after hitting a certain target you can get an internal reward within your company.  Office sugar bans can be effective, and I didn’t find it surprising that in my research I read “The workplace is often an individuals primary site of their sugar intake”.  Cravings are always hard to keep at bay and when the birthday cake comes around it’s hard to say no.   Free on-site gyms and classes seem to get received well and I know plenty of people that make use of their work gym.  Employers offer discounted gym memberships which can help encourage exercise but doesn’t enforce it.

 

Should exercise be enforced within the workplace?  We spend on average two thirds of our day at or commuting to work and fatigue is the main reason for not sticking to your exercise regime.  Physical education is compulsory in the UK National Curriculum until the age of 16, and then you’re left to your own devices.  What if employees were encouraged or even forced to exercise? In China back in the 1950s, state operated companies had COMPULSORY exercise routines that all employees would have to partake in.  Twice a day, employees were reminded on a sound system that they should begin their set of exercises for the day.  Now I’m not saying we should revert to communism, but I bet those employees were more active than the average today.

 

I read a few articles about companies who had implemented exercise at work schemes and there were only positive results.  Flexi hours is very common in the modern work world and allowing your staff an hour a day to exercise is no different.  Companies let employees arrange an hour of exercise in their working day, ensuring it didn’t clash with any meetings or work events, as long as they finished their contracted hours or completed their tasks by the end of the day.  How sweet would that be, allowing yourself a 2 hour lunch to get a workout in as long as you come in earlier or leave a bit later, I think most people would take up the offer.  A company that implemented an exercise at work scheme reported that their employees are “re-energised, happy, efficient and calm”.

 

Now if you’re a business owner or manager reading this thinking “My staff take enough breaks as it is!” you’d be right in thinking that.  But what if you look to the future and create a healthier, more productive, revitalised, physically and mentally better off employee base.   One study I read stated that in the US, morbidly obese employees could cost up to $16,000 per year, twice the amount of a healthy employee.  Employers are always investing in their staff qualifications, but never their health.  Don’t offer health insurance, get to the root of the problem and offer wellness schemes.  By implementing a few wellness schemes you will be promoting an equal work-life balance, it would be seen as a perk of joining your business, and in the long term you would be saving your company a few quid too!

 

Ill health is costing the UK economy £73 billion per year.  We spend pretty much our entire adult lives at work, should there not be some sort of exercise system at least encouraged within the workplace?  Should the government do more to force businesses to promote a healthy lifestyle in the workplace?  Or is it better to continue as we are with a dying population dependant on exhausting our National Health Service.

 

What do you think?  Would you feel happier at your workplace if you had an hour to exercise? Would it allow you to lead a healthier lifestyle? Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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