Councils set a great example by encouraging more active workers

Local councils have embraced a government stair-climbing initiative, and in the process are setting a great example to their more sedentary private and public sector colleagues.

Councils have had a tough time of things since 2010, what with having to cope with austerity and deep cost-cutting and efficiency savings. Nevertheless, many councils up and down the country are still managing to set a great example in terms of encouraging their employees to get up and about and be more active. A number of local councils across Britain have successfully been boosting staff wellbeing, activity and productivity by taking part in a Department of Health backed stair-climbing initiative.

The StepJockey Local Government Stair Challenge has seen local authorities across England completing month-long health challenges in which staff use the stairs instead of the lift.In all, some 200 teams have burnt nearly 400,000 calories by climbing around four million stairs in 50,000 journeys.

StepJockey is a health tech start-up that was seed-funded by the Department of Health in a bid to fight sedentary behaviour within the workplace. The initiative has come as, separately, a study by health insurance firm CS Healthcare has concluded public sector workers are by and large fitter than the national average.

An analysis of data from 4,000 health checks over two years found half (50%) of public sector workers had a high body mass index (BMI), with 14% classified as obese. But this compared with national population averages of 62% and 25% respectively.

While these two stories are discrete, it is refreshing for public sector employers to be making the news for a positive health and wellbeing story for once, given that so often the public sector gets criticised for its high levels of absence compared with the private sector. Another positive element is the potential example local authorities are giving to other employers, both public sector and private.

Combine this with the new emphasis the NHS is putting on staff health and wellbeing, and we potentially start to see a compelling template building up that other employers perhaps could, if they so wished, learn from. Then there’s also simply the powerful message this all sends out in terms of the benefit of breaking the habit of sedentary working lifestyles.

As Claire McDonald, a fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health and NHS behaviour change specialist, has put it: “Increasing movement within the workplace is a vital component of any preventative health strategy and it is wonderful to see local authorities embracing this approach and leading from the front in this way.

“Stair climbing is not only a powerful way to build short bursts of activity into your day but it is low cost and is accessible. It works for everyone in the office and not just the ‘sporty types’,” she added.

Melanie Stradling, occupational health advisor at BHWA member Medigold Health, concurs with this view. As she points out: “I feel that, medically, we should be encouraging employers to pay serious considerations to the health implications for their employees being desk-bound without taking an appropriate break.”

She cites examples where she worked with organisations to put in place lunchtime walking clubs and encouraged walking meetings. “Activity provides benefits to staff health, attendance levels and productivity. Medically according to researchers, people who sit for more than six hours a day are 40% more likely to die within 15 years than people who sit for less than three hours per day,” says Stradling.

But it also comes down to senior leaders and managers modelling and encouraging this sort of good, healthier behaviour. As Stradling adds: “As always, company culture only tends to change if management are on board and led by example.”



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