A healthy workplace is not out of reach
Fitness Australia has received a Healthy Workplace Award from the Australian Government’s National Preventive Health Agency. The company’s CEO, LAURETTA STACE, shares how any workplace can be healthy.
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality and, when combined with being overweight or obese, it is associated with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and various cancers.
Given that more than 60 percent of Australians are either overweight or obese and two-thirds are either sedentary or have low levels of exercise, we cannot ignore the fact that some of us are walking time bombs.
Though everywhere we turn, we hear and read about a healthier and fitter lifestyle, the fact remains that for many Australians increasing their levels of physical activity is proving to be difficult while keeping up with their busy lifestyles. This is why it is critical that the place where we spend most of our time, outside of our home, promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Healthy workplaces can help to make businesses more productive and employees more engaged. By implementing a healthier workplace, employers should notice improved performance and productivity, a reduction in absenteeism and sick leave, and improved morale, satisfaction and motivation.
At Fitness Australia, we chose to walk the talk by introducing such an initiative for our entire team – after all, we are committed to promoting a healthier and fitter Australia. Our initiative was recently recognised by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) through a Healthy Small Workplace Award for implementing best practices.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
At Fitness Australia our team culture is ‘family-like’, so I took the opportunity to raise the idea at our annual retreat, as I believed it was important that we practised what our industry preaches. The response from the staff was supportive and immediately a team volunteered to develop and implement the strategy. Management and the board provided support and leadership, but it was the staff who picked the idea up, ran with it and engaged everyone in the organisation.
The staff brainstormed and consulted with everyone, which meant there were a variety of programs suggested and later designed to maximise the involvement from all staff. We were also guided by a terrific online resource from the National Heart Foundation called the ‘10 step guide to implementing a workplace health program’, which helped with the development and implementation of our initiative.
But, most importantly, these were programs the staff wanted and all the programs had a common thread – they were centred on our community and sharing the experience. We found that this created a fun and inspirational environment for everyone.
THE PROGRAMS INTRODUCED
Our initiative focuses on increasing physical activity such as walking during lunch, yoga classes, raising awareness of healthier eating options through cooking classes and supporting mental well-being in the workplace.
We encouraged staff to use the team intranet to discuss their sporting or activity interests, set challenges, ‘brag’ about their achievements and exchange ideas on how to improve their health and well-being, and that of their family and friends. We also encouraged and supported taking time out from the office to do some form of exercise on a regular basis.
WHAT ABOUT COST?
As a small business, we developed and implemented programs that were not costly and resource intensive. In fact, employers can introduce a variety of initiatives to suit their workplace and they don’t necessarily cost a lot.
For example, encouraging walking groups during lunch breaks, providing healthy eating options in canteens and at social events, providing healthy lifestyle education sessions, organising outdoor activities, team challenges or group training sessions, or providing discounted fitness centre membership. All of these things contribute to making the workplace healthier and fitter, and can be implemented at very little cost, in some cases no cost, to the employer.
The team that developed and implemented the initiative also surveyed the staff to evaluate each program after it was delivered. From the survey results we were informed that the majority of staff enjoyed the programs and that their health and fitness had improved. Fifty percent of staff believed their health knowledge has gained since the implementation of the initiative.
We were also advised by staff that there is a preference for team challenges that are not competitive, but encourage commitment over time. We found that many staff enjoyed the yoga classes and suggested future cycling tours or activities such as ten-pin bowling.
The survey results have provided valuable feedback that the initiative was well-received and has positively contributed to both the workplace and the team’s health and well-being. The team that will be developing the programs for the following year are also using the survey results to ensure that any issues or concerns are addressed.
WHERE DO I START?
Some tips for getting started include:
- gain support from management
- engage your employees
- assess your needs, and
- use first step tools.
In terms of resources, there are many available from both the Australian Government and the states and territories that can make this a reality in your workplace. To access these resources and to read more about our programs visit fitness.org.au.
Lauretta Stace is the CEO of Fitness Australia, a position she has held since 2006. She has overseen the organisation’s transition from state-based bodies to a unified, single body and closer integration between the fitness and health sectors.