It has long been accepted that employers have a duty of care towards their employees when it comes to health and wellbeing. The best employers will go beyond the bare bones of Health and Safety requirements and offer a whole host of support services and benefits, from tackling workplace stress, encouraging the use of healthy living initiatives and effectively implementing and communicating employee benefits designed to make their organisation a happier and healthier place to work.
But when it comes to diet and weight, the focus often falls on the individual. The latest obesity stats paint an alarming figure, with around of a quarter of UK adults (26% of women and 24% of men) falling into the ‘obese’ category. The health implications associated with obesity (increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, strokes and depression) are certainly not restricted to the personal domain, with workplace productivity bound to suffer should employees begin developing these types of medical problems. Yet many employers (and indeed employees) fail to realise the effect the workplace can have on diet and weight.
How the workplace affects weight gain
You might assume an overweight worker is piling on the pounds because of their lifestyle outside of the workplace – an active social life including calorific meals, heavy alcohol consumption and an aversion to exercise can certainly contribute to weight issues. However, recent Canada Life research has shown that over a third (36%) of UK workers say they have put on weight as a direct result of their job, with an average weight gain of around 7lbs in a year.
When you consider the fact that over half (56%) of UK workers surveyed spend the majority of their day sitting down, and the average 9-5 worker spends 40 hours a week at work, it makes sense that your job can have a significant impact on your weight. Interestingly, the sectors most likely to say they had put on weight because of their role were those who work in IT, financial services and law – all of which were some of the most likely to spend their working day sitting down.
And it’s not just a sedentary workforce that can contribute to weight problems. Have you ever noticed yourself or your colleagues skipping lunch or resorting to convenience foods when stressed or particularly busy? Perhaps you’re one of the 33% surveyed who eats lunch at their desk, or find yourself snacking on unhealthy treats such as biscuits or cakes that colleagues have brought in.
Your working lifestyle can cut into your personal time, too. A fifth (20%) of our respondents said long working hours prevented them from being able to do as much exercise as they’d like to. Disturbingly, almost one in ten (9%) found the stress of their job made them gain weight – treating yourself after a bad day at the office is fine, but if you’re having a bad day every day, this can lead to serious consequences on your physical and mental health.
Minimise diet risks at work
The news that your job can make you overweight certainly hasn’t come as a surprise to me. As the face of health and wellbeing at Canada Life, I have the perfect body for radio and as a result tend to do more writing than video sessions (luckily we have a thinner, new sales director!)
In all seriousness, this isn’t an issue that should be taken lightly. Yes, individuals have a responsibility towards their own health, but as an organisation employers need to make sure they minimise the risk of having a negative impact on the wellbeing of their staff, and that includes weight and diet.
What can employers and HR staff do?
First of all, determine how the workplace may be negatively affecting employees’ health. Is unhealthy food readily available? Are healthy living initiatives in place (e.g. gym memberships, cycle to work schemes, and are they being communicated effectively?) An Employee Assistance Programme (provided with most group insurance products) can be the perfect way to do this, with health portals, flyers and posters some of the many options available.
Finally, don’t be afraid to broach difficult topics such as weight and stress. It’s important not to offend, but at the same time it’s just as important to ensure staff are healthy, happy, and ultimately productive.