Everyone knows that physical activity is beneficial and that most of us could be more active. Inactivity is one controllable risk factor for a growing range of chronic conditions (ex: Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, bone and joint diseases, mild depression). Approximately 80% of Manitoba adults have been found to have at least one of these risk factors, including insufficient levels of activity. Only about half of adult Manitobans are getting regular physical activity.
Increasing physical activity offers many benefits:
- increases energy
- reduces stress & improves sleep
- favourable changes in blood pressure & cholesterol levels
- bolsters mental wellness and resiliency
- strengthens the heart, lungs and muscles
- improves overall quality of life
Research has found that 42% of Canadian workers report “lack of time due to work” as a barrier to physical activity. Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week – 50% more than two decades ago.
Workplaces are important places to promote a culture of physical activity. Employees find it an appealing venue because of the convenience, familiarity, peer support, flexibility and reduced personal expense. Employers who help employees build physical activity into their work day will benefit with:
- Strengthened teamwork
- less absenteeism and sick time
- lower health care costs
- more productive and alert staff
- reduced turnover
- improved employee morale
- reduced operating costs
- workplace physical activity programs can reduce sick leave by up to 32%, increase productivity by up to 52% and reduce workplace injuries by 25%
- work performance can be improved by four to 15% when employees participate in regular physical activity (Health Canada)
- physically active employees take 27% fewer days of sick leave (Public Health Agency of Canada)
- turnover rates for fitness program participants was 32.4% lower than average over seven years (Canadian Life Assurance Company)
One of the first, key steps to creating an effective workplace wellness program is to assess the needs and interests of your employees.
Conducting a wellness assessment to find out your employees’ health needs, concerns and preferences (ex: mental wellness, anti-tobacco, better nutrition, more physical activity) will promote awareness of the program and boost interest in participation.
Each workplace and its employees have different needs, so the strategies used to address employee health will vary, based on available resources, the needs and interests of management and employees and priority health issues.
Workplaces often survey employees in find out what they want to include in a wellness program. It is important for workplaces to use confidential, non-threatening ways of collecting data. An official letter expressing management support for a workplace health program and the reasons for the assessment should be attached to written survey forms or included with online versions.
Suggestions for getting staff feedback
- Talk about wellness concerns and program ideas in informal one-on-one or small group discussions with employees, management and unions.
- Provide a suggestion box (physical or electronic) so employees can submit their program ideas.
- Distribute a written employee survey.
- Organize employee focus groups.
Potential survey questions
- How would you rate your overall physical and mental health on a scale of 1 to 10, one being poor and 10 being excellent?
- What are the 3 main things you would like to do in the next 12 months to improve or maintain your physical and mental health?
- What healthy living topics/activities interest you?
- If you were to participate in a healthy workplace program, what is the best time of day for you to participate?
- What supports would help you participate fully in a healthy workplace program?
Should you want more guidance on how to survey your employees, see:
Sample Healthy Workplace Assessment Survey (Word doc)
Guarding Minds @ Work Survey
Data collection, use and storage
- Completing a healthy workplace assessment tool should be voluntary and intended only to identify potential health programs in a workplace.
- Employee information must be kept strictly confidential and stored in places not accessible by unauthorized staff.
- The healthy workplace assessment data should be compiled into non-identifying aggregate information to be used to develop health and wellness programs best suited to the needs of your workplace.
Work activities should allow employees to alternate between sitting, standing and moving. Following are some ways to encourage your staff to reduce their sedentary behaviour:
- Offer height-adjustable desks so employees can work either sitting or standing.
- Move the printers, scanners, photocopiers, water coolers and recycling bins further away from work spaces.
- Encourage staff to stand during phone calls.
- Allow headsets or speaker-phones during teleconferences so employees can stand or move around their space.
- Encourage staff to talk about work issues in person, rather than via email.
- Have standing or walking meetings.
- Offer regular short breaks during long meetings to allow participants to stand/move/stretch.
- Generally encourage more standing and moving (ex: standing, walking, stretching)about the workplace.
- At long meetings or conferences, include time in the agenda for stretch and movement breaks.