date: 27 November 2007
embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 29 November 2007
More employers are becoming aware of the need to promote a healthy lifestyle by offering 'stop smoking' or lunchtime exercise classes to employees, but if they really want to improve the health of their workforce, they should address problems like stress and poor office design that are really making their staff ill, says the TUC today (Thursday).
In its submission to Dame Carol Black's review of the health of the working age population, the TUC says that employers' attempts to encourage healthy living are most effective when they look at how work can contribute to or cause lifestyle problems.
But the TUC also warns against employers moralising over lifestyle issues. Drug and alcohol issues, for instance, are a concern when they affect the performance of a person in the workplace or put at risk the safety of workers or the public. Good employers may wish to assist any employees who have an addiction problem that is affecting them or their work. But employers should not be attempting to interfere in what employees do outside the office if it has no bearing on what goes on at work.
The TUC submission says that there is a difference between an employer who is keen to introduce choices and working methods that will help staff who want to control their weight, and the employer who wants to force anyone who they consider overweight to change their eating habits.
It is the working environment that often makes staff ill or unhealthy, and the TUC submission urges employers to avoid working arrangements that leave employees desk-bound for long periods of time. Similarly, workplaces with poorly managed workloads or where bullying is rife can increase employees' stress levels. However, the TUC believes that proper work-life balance policies can go a long way towards encouraging a healthier lifestyle.
Although healthy food in staff canteens, subsidised gym membership or access to counselling for those with drug or alcohol problems are to be encouraged, the TUC says that lunchtime yoga classes are no substitute for reducing stress in the workplace. And while access to fresh fruit is a good thing, it won't be of much use to employees who never get to take a lunch break, nor will gym access be a benefit to those who work late night after night.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'The workplace can, like any other environment, be a useful place to encourage people to make healthy choices, but it must be done in a non-judgemental way. Employers should be creating opportunities so that staff can make healthier choices should they so chose, rather than try to force them to adopt a particular lifestyle that has no bearing on how they do their jobs.'
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- The full response which covers a wide range of issues including prevention, sickness absence, access to occupational health provision and rehabilitation can be found at http://www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-14004-f0.cfm
- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk
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Press release (600 words) issued 29 Nov 2007
This page http://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace/tuc-14020-f0.cfm
printed 22 May 2013 at 06:20 hrs by 220.127.116.11