UK Spa Association
The Active Workplace - Mental Health & Wellbeing
How to use being active to support employee wellbeing this mental health week. Tips for employers, business owners and staff.
Being physically active might not be the first thing we think when thinking of how to support mental health and wellbeing in a work environment.
However, research shows that being active has multiple health benefits for individuals and also for a business. For example, it can:
- reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases and mental illness by 35%
- boost mood and increase energy levels
- support good physical and mental function, and improve sleep
- alleviate symptoms associated with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions
- offset the risk that comes with prolonged sedentary behaviour at work
It also provides business-related benefits such as:
- increased productivity at work and job satisfaction
- reduced presenteeism (presence at work while sick)
- fewer sick days (absenteeism)
What can you do to support your staff to be active as a way of looking after their mental health and wellbeing.
The Active Workforce report released by ukactive in June focused on understanding the wants and needs of SMEs when it comes to supporting their staff to be physically active, recognising that these needs and associated challenges will be very different from larger organisations. Findings, however, are applicable to any size of organisation.
The report also made the important link between being physically active and improved wellbeing – with 70.6% of SME’s surveyed stating that the top motivator for putting physical activity opportunities in place was because it improved wellbeing.
Based on these and the report findings, ukactive have created several tips for employers of how to use physical activity to support employee mental health this week and going forward.
- Give your employees time to be active at work
Employers can support mental health through being active at work by giving employees the time to be active during the working day. This can be done by implementing meeting free-days or providing staff with extra allotted time or an extended lunch break to go attend their favourite class, walk or cycle.
- Role model workplace physical activity
Senior leaders have an important role in ensuring employees feel it is acceptable for them to take time to look after their mental health, and that involves being active throughout the working day. Senior leaders can best support this by themselves role modelling active behaviours and taking time to be active for their mental health, alongside sharing this, and providing clear verbal permission to employees that taking time to be active during for their mental health is allowed.
- Keep workplace physical activity simple and use it as a social opportunity
Opportunities that are easy to implement are favourable because they require less time. Implementing simple opportunities that can slot into an employees working day naturally, such as walking wellbeing check ins, could be good place to start. Opportunities that allow employees to interact socially and connect with one another tend to be the most popular, so creating simple group activities like a lunch and walk could aid this.
- Begin the conversation about co-creation with employees
Even if opportunities to be active are put in place, employees won’t necessarily use them if they don’t feel it meets their needs. Involve your staff in conversations from the offset about the kind of support and opportunities they would like to see that would make it easier for them to be active during the day. This will both help to make sure the offers you put in place will be used and will ensure employees needs are being met.
- Focus on removing existing barriers
The reasons why employees might not be active is because of existing barriers – such as feeling they do not have the time - which means that putting new opportunities in place won’t necessarily mean they get used or make things easier for staff. Before implementing new opportunities and support, understand the existing environment and focus on removing existing barriers to being active for the long term. This could be looking at removing barriers to incidental activity, such as helping an employee configure a home working space that means they do more incidental activity or re-arranging the office space so people have further to move to get drinks or to the bins.