Fit For Work?

Miles Cooper insists that the fitter and healthier we are the better we will do our jobs and the more we will enjoy our lives. Sounds like good advice doesn’t it? But are we actually listening?

Many of us are overweight and out of shape. That’s an undeniable fact. Recent surveys have put the figure at some 40% of the population. In recent years you have needed only to walk down the street to see large numbers of unfit, unhealthy workers from a wide variety of professions.

But is this situation changing for the better? Is the message that a healthy lifestyle means a fitter, happier workforce getting out?

Fitness clubs have been one of the most dynamic business growth areas in the last five years and while competition is now extremely fierce (membership fees are seemingly pitched at permanent ‘special introductory offer’ prices) and saturation point has surely been reached, a great many of us these days ‘belong’ to a gym.

“It’s a question of education” says personal fitness consultant Gordon Lindsay. “If people are aware of the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and can see those benefits reflected in their daily lives, then they will be more inclined to persist and follow through with a fitness programme.”

Lindsay firmly believes that physical exercise can have a marked, positive influence on our performance in the workplace.

“It stands to reason that if you are fit, healthy and full of vitality, you are going to approach any task you have to perform with increased vigour and energy. Add to that the mental sharpness and feelings of fulfilment and self-esteem that come from being in shape and you can look forward to starting each working day in a positive frame of mind.”

However, Lindsay is at pains to point out that while office workers with sedentary lifestyles are a group who can greatly benefit from regular exercise, they shouldn’t attempt to go from Johnny Vegas to Haile Gebre Selassie in just one step.

“If you haven’t been used to a fitness regime it’s important to ease yourself into it gently. But doing even a little exercise on a regular basis can have a surprisingly quick and significant impact.”

It’s difficult to argue with Lindsay’s theory, but finding the time to regularly attend the gym, go for a swim or a jog around the park isn’t always easy, no matter how good your work-life balance is. As a solution to this conundrum, and also to ensure that their workforce is performing to the best of its abilities, increasing numbers of employers are putting in place fitness schemes for their employees. {mospagebreak}

The logic is fairly simple – if employees are healthier and fitter then they are less likely to take time off through illness and are more likely to be motivated and happy, which can only be good for productivity. So, while it’s clearly not just an act of generosity on the part of employers – the benefits to them are more than apparent – access to different forms of exercise and healthy recreation can only be good for all concerned.

Travel retailer Flight Centre UK have clearly embraced this concept. Two years ago the company launched Healthwise, an in-house division designed to ensure that all employees place a high value on their health by offering professional advice and education on fitness, nutrition and general wellbeing.

The company regard Healthwise as a long term investment and hope to reap the same benefits of a happy healthy workforce that their counterparts in Flight Centre Australia, where the scheme was pioneered, have enjoyed. Down Under, the scheme has helped decrease sick days and contributed substantially to morale and company loyalty.

Heading up Healthwise is Steve Cormack, who previously managed a health club has a degree in applied sports science. He believes that it is important that staff members at all levels are exposed to positive information and activities regarding health and fitness.

“Most corporate health plans are aimed at upper management levels, but it is important that all employees have access to expert health advice. Schemes like this are often the kick-start people need to start taking greater responsibility for their own health.”

The Healthwise scheme provides free health consultations and advice, massage, personal training and seminars on fitness and health, as well as expert guidance from Cormack himself.

“I help staff set realistic, individual goals, based on where they would like to be in terms of their health, fitness and lifestyle. This could be anything from general health advice to setting a training programme for the marathon.”

The uptake from Flight Centre employees has been good and the feedback very positive, as staff member Fiona Goldsmith exemplifies.

“Things are going well and the results from my recent consultation have really inspired me. It’s been great to track the improvements in areas such as heart rate, cholesterol and BMI. The running schedules and advice lead to my completion of two 10Ks in June and hitting my personal best time. The great news is I have received a place in this year’s New York marathon so Steve had better get his diary out as I’ll be needing all his advice and expertise to meet my next challenge!”

While there is clearly much work still to be done, it does seem that many forward-looking organisations are exposing their staff to exercise and fitness opportunities and facilities. Change is taking place. However, it remains to be seen whether we will ever embrace the Japanese concept of corporate aerobics and communal singing of the company song at the start of each working day.