NHS urges staff to get fit with Zumba classes

03 September 2015 -


Insights takes a look at the fitness push for NHS staff and what other businesses can learn from the initiative

Jermaine Haughton

The corporate trend towards employers investing in the health and wellbeing of staff has extended to the UK public sector, with the National Health Service (NHS) announcing a new £5m plan to help keep employees fit and in work.

Doctors, nurses, carers and other NHS staff will be served healthy food and yoga and Zumba classes will be offered to improve their health and fitness. The employer will also provide staff with access to physiotherapy, smoking cessation and weight management services to help give personalised support to achieve health goals.

The move is motivated by the NHS’s need to “put its own house in order”, NHS England's chief executive Simon Stevens said. And the initiative forms a large part of the body’s plans to significantly reduce the NHS bill for staff sickness, which currently stands at £2.4bn a year.

Christina McAnea, of trade union Unison, welcomed the new health strategy expecting patients to yield the positive results of healthier and more active NHS staff.

She said: "The health and wellbeing of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients, and this initiative rightly starts recognising that. Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work.

"NHS staff experience some of the highest levels of stress and violence in the country, and this can no longer be tolerated. Health unions will be working with employers and NHS England on these issues."

Despite employees often representing the most valuable asset within a company, employers are seemingly only recently starting to take notice of the abundance of research showing staff to be overworked – thus developing related physical and mental illnesses.

Absenteeism is substantial. Across all industries in the UK, 11.3 million days of work were lost in 2013-2014 due to stress, depression or anxiety – an average of 23 days per person. Additionally, presenteeism has emerged as a serious issue for human resources departments, with ill employees feeling pressurised to come to work, despite not being fit for work.

Almost half (48%) of UK workers went to work while sick over the last year, according to research from reward platform One4all Rewards, while 11% of people stated that they had been unwell as a result of their jobs during the same period.

Nevertheless, many of those affected still don’t think management truly understands, with more than half of UK workers believing that their corporate culture does not support their physical wellbeing, according to a 2014 study led by the British Council for Offices.

And with productivity, job satisfaction and engagement all found to be lower in workers who show symptoms of absenteeism and presenteeism, Declan Byrne, managing director of One4all Group, says employers will significantly hurt their businesses if they fail to be proactive in tackling the problem.

“Many workers believe that employers don’t care about their health,” he said. “Therefore it’s important that businesses take proactive steps to help employees look after their health and wellbeing.

“Those that do are likely to see the results add to their bottom line, with greater productivity, staff retention and the ability to recruit better candidates all shown to be enhanced by company health schemes.”

Therefore, encouraging staff to take up exercise classes and providing healthy meals are an important step forward for the NHS in their health strategy. Exercise is found to boost memory and help temperament, as regular activity enhances the size of the hippocampus – the area of the brain involved in learning and emotions, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Meanwhile, a balanced diet and opting for bottles of water rather than cups of coffee are likely to improve energy and concentration levels.

Earlier this year, Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis made headlines for suggesting too many checkout staff are fat. According to The Sun, Lewis sent a memo to the UK supermarket’s 314,000 employees advising them to use breaks to keep moving by taking a walk or doing some stretches, and using TV advert breaks to run up and down the stairs, jog on the spot, or do some sit ups at home.


And fitness trackers, wearable bands that monitor the individual’s steps and calorie intake, are also starting to work their way into employee health programmes.

BP has found Fitbit fitness trackers to be popular with staff – allowing them to set and share their fitness goals. So far this year, the oil giant reports that 24,500 of them have been distributed to staff and dependent spouses.

In fact, the use of fitness trackers by employees has surged in the last two years with technology research company Gartner predicting that most large companies – those with more than 500 employees – in both the US and Western Europe will offer fitness trackers with their programmes by 2016.

With the presence of so many fitness gadgets and workplace initiatives, Julie Creffield, founder of Too Fat to Run and a consultant for the British Sports Council, says it is vital managers remember these measures are futile without giving staff some freedom to move around the office and be active during working hours.

“Sitting at a desk all day can leave you feeling fatigued and your work suffers,” she said. “It’s a problem if a member of staff can’t just say they’re going for a break, or for a walk, and instead, has to wait until lunchtime.

“If you trust staff [to manage their time], you’ll have a more productive workforce.”

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