Overweight workers blame management for making them fat

by Stephanie Zillman10 Jul 2012

Workers in Victoria and Western Australia are the most likely to eat out of boredom at work while nation-wide, more than half of workers claim their workplace offers little-to-no healthy lifestyle support.

The survey of more than 1,000 Australian workers also revealed that one in three workers believe the drinking culture at work was a factor in their unhealthy lifestyle, Weight Watchers found.

"I think employers have got to be careful of the use of alcohol in the work environment," HR expert Roger Collins from the University of NSW told News Limited. “But anything to do with health and wellbeing is primarily the responsibility of the individual and we can’t duck that one, we can't say the dog ate my homework,” he added.

What’s more, almost three quarters of Australians said not having enough time to exercise when at work was among the biggest “barriers” to a healthy lifestyle. Collins said that managers were partly responsible for a person’s physical and psychological wellbeing.

Yet broaching the topic of health with employees can be tough, and a good approach may be to firstly promote health through general awareness programs, and then gauging the wants and needs of your employees. Otherwise, offering gym memberships as a perk may be a waste of money.

Jane Wagstaff from healthcare specialist Medtronic told HC that only after promoting healthy lifestyles as a company value should HR consider adding additional wellness strategies and offerings. “Once [employees] have done a health risk assessment and you’ve got their attention, they are more engaged than they were before,” she said.

Wagstaff warned that offering ‘one size fits all’ gym memberships may end up being a waste of money, as many employees won’t use it. Indeed, according to Corporate Fitness Culture, while HR have been proactive in implementing health and wealth initiatives, such as discounted or free gym memberships, these initiatives have largely misfired.

Less than 20% of Australians have a gym membership, and of those, just 10% go on a regular basis. “The problems with traditional corporate wellness programs is they don’t work! Human resource and senior managers believe the problem is caused through lack of funds, resources or industry knowledge. This often leads to managers providing safe and easy-to-implement programs which they think employees want [but] lead to poor take-up rates and no longevity,” Wagstaff said.

Instead, an organisation could offer employees a dollar amount to spend on anything health-related: ballroom dancing lessons, tennis rackets, Zumba classes. “We had a benefit in place where we offered subsidised gym memberships, and you get a percentage of people that take that up. But the feedback was that a lot of people don’t want to go to the gym. When we expanded it to $400 to spend on health however people wanted, the uptake was remarkable,” Wagstaff said.

Best practice tip

The most successful corporate wellness programs identify employee needs through basic health and fitness questionnaires, and then address the organisation’s needs by providing variety and importantly, motivation.


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